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tfUlni by limi (!me KiiJiiiKinii) Ijt^ijiiifirif 

Edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore 




® 1953 t>y The University of Chicago 

The Suppliant Matdens; The Persians, Seven against Thebes 
@ 1956 by The University of Chicago 

Prometheus Bound 
© 1942 by The University of Chicago 

Volume I published 1959 Second impression 1959 
Composed and printed by The Umversity of Chicago Press 
Chicago, Illinois, USA 


The translation of Agamemnon which is here used first appeared 
in Greek Plays in Modern Translation, edited with an Introduction 
by Dudley Fitts (New York: Dial Press, 1947). It is used here by 
kind permission of The Dial Press, Inc. Some alterations have been 
made, chiefly in the matter of spelling Greek names. Two sections of 
Agamemnon, "The God of War, Money Changer of Dead Bodies," 
and "The Achaeans Have Got Troy, upon This Very Day," first 
published m War and the Poet: A Comprehensive Anthology of the 
World' s Great War Poetry, edited by Richard Eberhart and Selden 
Rodman, are used by permission of the Devm-Adair Company 

The translation of all three plays is based on H. W. Smyth's 
"Loeb Classical Library" text (London and New York: William 
Heinemann, Ltd., and G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1926). A few deviations 
from this text occur where I have followed the manuscript readings 
instead of emendations accepted by Smyth. 

Various editions of Greek drama divide the lines of lyric passages 
in various ways, but editors regularly follow the traditional line 
numbers whether their own line divisions tally with these numbers 
or not. This accounts for what may appear to be erratic line number- 
ing in our translations, for instance, The Eumenides 360 and follow- 
ing. The line numbering in the translations in this volume is that 
of Smyth's text. 

« V » 


























« viu > 


The Life of Aeschylus 

A-ESCHYLUS, the son of Euphorion, was bom in the last quarter 
of the sixth century b.c , probably about 513 or 512 B c. The great 
Persian Wars occurred during his early manhood, and he fought, 
certainly at Marathon (where his brother was killed in action) and 
probably also at Artemisium, Salamis, and Plataea. He is said to have 
begun at an early age to write tragedies, his first victory was in 
484 B.C. In or about 476 B c. he visited Sicily and, at the instance of 
Hieron of Syracuse, Pindar's friend, produced The Women of Etna 
at the new city of Etna which Hieron had founded. In 472 he pro- 
duced his Persians at Athens, with Pericles as his choregus (or official 
sponsor) and re-produced it, presumably in the next year, in Sicily. 
Back m Athens in 468, he was defeated by the young Sophocles, but 
won again in 467 with a set of plays including The Seven against 
Thebes. In 458 he presented the Oresteia (^Agamemnon, The Libation 
Bearers, The Eumenides). He died in Gela, Sicily, in 456 or 455 B.C., 
leaving behind him an epitaph which might be rendered as follows: 

Under this monument lies Aeschylus the Athenian, 

Euphonon's son, who died in the wheatlands of Gela. The grove 

of Marathon with its glones can speak of his valor m battle 
The long-haired Persian remembers and can speak of it too. 

He left behind more than seventy plays (the exact number is un- 
certain), of which seven have survived. They are The Suppliants, 
The Persians, The Seven against Thebes, Prometheus Bound, Agamem- 
non, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides. He is said to have won 
first prize thirteen times while he lived, but after his death his 
tragedies were often produced again, and m competition with living 
posts he won more prizes still. 

« I » 


It would be interesting to know how old Aeschylus was when he 
wrote his known and dated plays. But the date of his birth is quite 
uncertain, though the year 525/4' is commonly given as if it were 
an established fact. It is true enough that apparently independent 
authorities give ages at the time of Marathon and at time of death 
which agree with this scheme. However, the birth date may very 
easily be accounted for by the rule-of-thumb method, favored by 
Greek chronologists, of taking an important event in a man's life 
and counting back forty years to an estimated date of birth. Thus the 
traditional birth date of Thucydides is 471 (from the outbreak of the 
war he recorded in 431); of Aristophanes, 445 (from the production 
of his masterpiece, The Frogs, in 405). Both these dates are bad (there 
are many parallels), and the one for Aeschylus is no more convinc- 
mg. An age of forty at his first victory is suspect, not only because 
It tallies so neatly with a known method of reckoning, but because 
it is in itself unlikely that a man who utterly eclipsed his rivals in 
subsequent reputation, so that they are now very little more than 
bare names, should have had to wait so long before scoring his first 
success. A less popular but more attractive tradition would make 
him bom in 513 or 512, but here also we may be dealing with esti- 
mates based on known and dated events, such as battles and dramatic 

Ancient authorities also tell us a few other things about Aeschylus 
which would be interestmg if we could believe them. It is said that 
he left Athens for Sicily in chagrin because he was defeated by Si- 
monides, the great lyric poet, in a competition for writing the epitaph 
of the dead at Marathon, or because he was defeated by Sophocles 
in dramatic competition, or because he disliked Athenian politics.' 

1. Athenian dates are generally fixed by the term of the archon, or titular chief 
magistrate Since the archons changed over some time in the summer, not at our new 
year, such dates overlap those of our calendar. Smce, however, plays came out m the 
iprmg before the change-over, a play dated to an archonship of, for instance, 485/4 
will always fall m 484, 

2. Eunpides, near the end of his life, left Athens in voluntary exile and died m 
Macedonia at the court of Kmg Archelaus. There is reason to believe that he left be- 
cause he had constantly &iled to wm critical approval m Athens and because he de- 
spaired of the hopeless course which his aty had been following smce the nme of 
Perides The biographers doubtless apphed the analogy of Eunpides-Athens-Arfhe- 

« 2 » 


The defeats are real, but they do not tally, chronologically, with the 
visits to Sicily; on the contrary, after losing to Sophocles, Aeschylus 
stayed in Athens and won first prize with The Seven against Thehes 
and Its related dramas the next year, which is quite different firom 
going off to Sicily in a huff. If one may guess at why he went to 
Sicily, It was because Sicily was the America of that day, the new 
Greek world, rich, generous, and young, with its own artists but 
without the tradition of perfected culture which Old Greece had 
built up, and it attracted Pindar, Bacchylides, Simonides, and 
Aeschylus much as America has attracted Enghsh men of letters 
from Dickens, Thackeray, and Wilde down to the present day. We 
do not know much about the personal character of Aeschylus and 
can make little critical use of what we do know. The epitaph shows 
he was proud of his military record, but this scarcely helps us to un- 
derstand The Persians, The Seven against Thebes, or Agamemnon. We 
must approach Aeschylus, not from the biographies, but from his 
own plays 

Early Tragedy 

From the time of the almost legendary Thespis, a full generation 
before the earliest tragedy we possess, dramatic performances of 
some sort had been regularly produced at Athens In origin, they 
must have been a special local development of the choral lyric — 
sacred, occasional, provincial, public — which was alive in all the 
cities of Greece. But the early phases of the course by which dra- 
matic lyric was transformed into lyric drama are now mvisible to 
us. We can recognize certain ingredients, or essential features Early 
drama was choral, and the hfe of Attic tragedy shows the indispen- 
sable chorus to the end, though the actors steadily invade the pre- 
serves of the chor\is until, at the close of the fifth century, Euripides 
is using it sometimes in a most perfiinctory manner, as if it were a 
convention he could not get rid of but might otherwise have pre- 
ferred to do without. Early drama was sacred, havmg to do with the 

laus to Aeschylus-Athens-Hieron But Euripides was a failure in his own lifetime, and 
It made him a defeatist and escapist Of Aeschylus we can say with confidence that he 
wa^ neither of these things. 

« 3 * 


cult of divinities, and particularly with the cult of Dionysus: on the 
formal side, it was performed to the end on ground devoted to that 
god and before his priest; but developed tragedy did not have to 
be about Dionysus, and seldom was. Like most choral lyric, it was 
given through the medium of a formal competition. The early 
tragic poets drew, for narrative material and for metrical forms, on 
an already rich and highly developed tradition of nondramatic 
poetry, epic and lyric They also drew, no doubt, on the unwritten 
and almost inarticulate experience of a living people, on folk mem- 
ory and folklore, cult and ritual and ceremony and passion play and 
mystery play. But tragedy did not grow out of such elements. It was 
made. Concerning the makers, we know little indeed about Thes- 
pis, Pratmas, Choerilus, Phrynichus Tragedy, for us, begms with 

By or during the career of Aeschylus, the features of Greek 
tragedy become fixed At an Athenian festival, three player-groups, 
each consisting of two (later three) actors and chorus, act out com- 
petitively four-drama sets The material is based on stories told or 
indicated in previous Greek legend. Tragedy is heroic The costumes 
are formal, physical action restrained and without violence; natural- 
ism is neither achieved nor desired. Aeschylus himself, and his older 
contemporary Phrynichus before him, experimented with dramatic 
stones taken from contemporary history, and of these we have 
The Persians, dealing with the repulse of Xerxes and his forces. This 
was a success, but circumstances in this case were favorable to special 
occasional drama, for the defeat of Persia was the proudest achieve- 
ment of Greek history. And, even here, the play is about the Persians, 
not the Greeks, the setting is Persia, and only Persian individuals are 
named. Remoteness from the immediate here-and-now, required by 
tragedy and guaranteed by legendary material, is here to a great ex- 
tent achieved by placing the scene m the heart of Persia, so far away 
and guarded from Greeks that to the audience it might have seemed 
almost as legendary as the Troy of Hector or the Thebes of Oedi- 
pus.' A drama dealing directly with Themistocles and Pericles or 

3. So Shakespeare drew on history and legend for his tragedies and romances, or, 
when these dealt with time not specifically antique, the place would be idealized by 


With the war between Athens and Aegina would have been neither 
desired by the poet nor tolerated by his audience. 

The body of legend on which Aeschylus and the other tragic 
poets drew was composed of the epic poems of Homer and his suc- 
cessors and constituted a loose and informal, but fiiirly comprehen- 
sive, history of the world as the Greeks knew it. Typical sources m 
this complex were the Iliad and the Odyssey; the "Epic Cycle," or 
series of subsequent epics which filled out the story of Troy and 
dealt in detail with its occasions and aftereffects; the epics that told 
the story of Thebes; and numerous other narratives either written 
dovm or transmitted through unwritten oral tradition The drama- 
tist rarely worked directly from the mam body of the Iliad or the 
Odyssey; the less authoritative mmor texts were more popular. The 
dramatist seems not to have felt firee to mvent his material outright, 
but he could — m fact, he must — choose among variants, expand or 
deepen and interpret character, generally shape the story on the 
trend of his own imagination. In the case of Aeschylus, this process 
can be best reconstructed in the Oresteia, the trilogy or sequence of 
three tragedies composed of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and 
The Eumenides. 

The Story of the House of Atreus 

The version of the legend as Aeschylus used it runs as follows. 
Atreus and Thyestes, the sons of Pelops, quarreled because Thyestes 
had seduced his brother's wife, and disputed the throne of Argos. 
Thyestes, defeated and driven out, returned as a suppliant with his 
children, and Atreus m pretended reconaliation mvited him and his 
children to a feast. There he slaughtered the children of Thyestes (all 
but one) and served them in a concealing dish to their father, who 
ate their flesh. When it was made known to him what he had been 
doing, Thyestes cursed the entire house and fled with his surviving 
son, Aegisthus. Agamemnon and Menelaus, the sons of Atreus, m- 
herited the Kingdom of Argos, and married, respectively, Clytae- 

dutaacc and the vagueness of his audience's information: Italy, Bohemia, Olyiu, 

« 5 * 


mestra and Helen, the daughters of Tyndareus the Spartan. Cly- 
taemestra bore Agamemnon three children — Iphigeneia, Electra, 
and Orestes When Pans of Troy seduced Helen and carried her 
away, the brothers organized a great expedition to win her back 
The armament, gathered at Aulis, was held there by wind and 
weather, Calchas the prophet divined that this was due to the anger 
of Artemis and, with the pressure of public opinion behmd him, 
forced Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia, m order 
to appease the goddess Agamemnon with his forces sailed to Troy 
and in the tenth year captured it, destroyed the city and its temples, 
killed or enslaved the people, and set sail for home On the sea, a 
great storm struck the fleet, and Agamemnon, with a single galley, 
made his way back to Argos, the rest of his ships being sunk or 
driven out of sight and knowledge. With him he brought his mis- 
tress, Cassandra, captive princess and prophetess of Troy 

Meanwhile, in Argos, Aegisthus had returned and Clytaemestra 
had taken him as her lover and sent Orestes out of the country. 
Warned of the king's approach by signal flares through which he 
had agreed to notify her of the fall of Troy, she made ready to re- 
ceive him She welcomed him into the house, but when he was un- 
armed in his bath, she pinioned him in a robe and stabbed him to 
death, and killed Cassandra as well. She defended her action before 
the people of Argos, who were helpless against Aegisthus and his 
bodyguard. But Orestes returned at last and was welcomed by his 
sister Electra, who had remained rebellious against her mother but 
without power to act. Orestes, disguised as a traveler and pretendmg 
to bring news of his own death, won access to the house and killed 
both Aegisthus and Clytaemestra. Portents and dreams had fore- 
warned of this murder, and Orestes had been encouraged, even com- 
manded, by Apollo to carry it through. Nevertheless, when he had 
displayed the bodies and defended his act, the Furies (Eumenides), 
or spirits of retribution, appeared to him and drove him out of Ar- 
gos Orestes took refuge with Apollo at Delphi and was at last 
purified of the murder, but the Furies refused to acknowledge any 
absoluUon and pursued him across the world until he took refuge on 
the rock of Athens before the statue of Athene. There, in the pres- 

« 6 » 


ence of Athene, Apollo and the Furies appealed to her for a decision, 
and she, thinking the case too difficult to bejudged by a single per- 
son, even her divine self, appointed a court of Athenian jurors to 
hear the arguments and judge the case When the votes of these re- 
sulted m a tie, Athene herself cast the deciding ballot in favor of 
Orestes Orestes, deeply gratefial to Athene and her city, returned 
to Argos, while Athene found it necessary to propitiate the angry 
Eumenides by inducing them to accept an honorable place as tutelary 
spirits in Athens The law court of the Areiopagus, which had judged 
the case, was perpetuated as a just tribunal for homicide down 
through the history of man. 

Variations of the Legend 

Such are the bare facts of the story, the raw stuff out of which 
Aeschylus forged three massive tragedies. The story of the murder 
of Agamemnon had been told by Homer in the Odyssey'^ and by 
the cyclic successors of Homer m the Nostoi ("Returns"), while the 
early part of the story appears in the Cypria Stesichorus, the Sicilian 
poet, had made the fortunes of Orestes the subject of a long narra- 
tive m lyric form; and Pindar in his Eleventh Pythian had summarized 
the tale and reflected on the motives of Clytaemestra; and others, 
too, had touched on the story. On all these Aeschylus doubtless 
drew, and he had numerous variations from which to pick and 
choose ' The main difference between Aeschylus and Homer is to be 
found, however, not in details but m the whole approach to the 

4. Piecemeal the plot is constantly referred to by analogy with the plot of the 
Odyssey The prmapal references are 1 29-43, Zeus calls, the vengeance of Ores- 
tes an example of just retribution, 1 298-30C, Athene uses it as an encouragement to 
Telemachus, m 254-312, Nestor tells Telemachus of the beguihng of Clytaemestra, 
the wandcrmgs of Menelaus, and the vengeance of Orestes, iv J 14-37, Menelaus tells 
how he heard from Proteus about the death of Agamemnon, xi 405-34, the ghost 
of Agamemnon tells Odysseus how his wife and Aegisthus murdered him and Cas- 

5 For example. Homer makes the scene of the murder (and consequently the 
palace of Agamemnon) Mycenae; Stesichorus and Simonides, Sparta, Pmdar, Amy- 
dac (which comes to the same thmg) , Aeschylus, Argos, doubtless for political reasons 
Stesichorus called the nurse of Orestes Laodameia, Pmdar, Arsmoe, Aeschylus, 
Cilusa, etc. 


Story, which, in turn, motivates selection, addition, or omission of 
detail. It is to be noted that Homer does not tell the story consecu- 
tively; he really does not tell it at all, but he draws on it for example 
and illustration. The homecoming of Agamemnon is played agamst 
the homecoming of Odysseus; the situations are analogous, but the 
characters are different and bring different results out of similar ma- 
terials The murderous suitors lurk m the house of Odysseus as did 
Aegisthus in that of Agamemnon, but Penelope has not jomed the 
enemy as Clytaemestra did. Nevertheless, when Odysseus comes 
home, he has his warning from the ghost of Agamemnon and goes 
wanly so as not to fall into a similar trap. As for Telemachus, the 
resolute activity of Orestes is set as an example against his own in- 
decision The parts of the story that bear on such an apposition come 
out, and the tendency of it varies accordingly. The story is a domestic 
tragedy, but, since the house is a king's house, the tragedy becomes 
dynastic also It begins with the betrayal of a king and the alienation 
of his kingdom and ends with the rewinmng of dynastic power by 
the rightful heir Therefore, though the death of Agamemnon is 
tragic, the deaths of Aegisthus and Clytaemestra are nothing of the 
sort; no tragedy adheres to Orestes, he merits no compassion, only 
praise. It is, I thmk, because of this approach that Homer fails to men- 
tion certain aspects of the story which are prominent in Attic trag- 
edy. Iphigeneia does not appear; her slaughter would have suggested 
some motive of justice mixed into the treachery of Clytaemestra. 
Nor do we hear of the wrongs inflicted by Atreus on Thyestes and 
his sons, for this would have made the murder of Agamemnon in 
some measure defensible as an act of retribution Nowhere m Homer 
do we hear of an Orestes pursued by the Furies of his mother, 
whether these might be actual spirits or the remorse m his own 
memory. Did Homer, then, know nothing of how Orestes mur- 
dered Clytaemestra? The Imes m which he speaks of her death be- 
tray him {Od. iu. 304-10), for, while Menelaus was still on his 

Seven years Aegisthus was lord in golden Mycenae, 

but in the eighth the evil came on him when great Orestes 

came back from Athens and blled his father's slayer, the crafty 

« 8 . 


Aegisthus, who had murdered his glorious father. And after 
he had killed him, in the Argives' presence he held a funeral 
for his mother, who was hateful, and for the coward Aegisthus. 

This unobtrusive notice is all we have, but it makes perfectly plain 
the fact that the matricide was in Homer's tradition, and he could 
not contradict it. But he was in a position to place the emphasis 
wherever he chose and to tell only as much of the story, or as little, 
as suited his purpose. It is surely no accident that the parts which he 
leaves out are those which would complicate and confuse his simple 
picture of Aegisthus as a conspirmg vdlam, Orestes as an avenging 
hero, and Clytaemestra as a woman who yielded to her weakness. 

Aeschylus, on the other hand, told the whole story. Agamem- 
non takes us from the news of Troy's fall to the murder of Aga- 
memnon and the confirmation of his murderers as despots in Argos. 
The Libation Bearers begins with the return of Orestes and ends with 
his flight from Argos, pursued by the Furies, after the murder of 
Clytaemestra and Aegisthus. The Eumenides finds Orestes seeking 
sanctuary at Delphi, takes him to Athens for his acquittal and absolu- 
tion, and ends with the estabhshment of the Furies m their new home 
at Athens. Further, particularly m the first play of the trilogy, there 
are constant cutbacks which sweep mto the drama much of the 
fo'-egoing material: the banquet of Thyestes, the sacrifice of Iphige- 
neia, the siege and fall of Troy. The simple narrative which we can 
reconstruct from notices in Homer could not have carried the weight 
of a tragic trilogy. 


Agamemnon is, first of all, a domestic tragedy. The dommant fig- 
ure, Clytaemestra, is a wife estranged through the wrong her hus- 
band committed on their daughter; love for Iphigeneia, acting 
through the murder of Agamemnon, is on its way toward driving 
her to fight her love for her surviving daughter and for her son. 
Her paramour and partner is her husband's cousin. Behind them all 
is the figure of Helen, Clytaemestra's sister, wife of Agamemnon's 
brother, whose treachery caused the Trojan War, Iphigeneia's death, 
and all the estrangement and broken faith that followed The theme 

« 9 » 


here is the philos-aphilos or hate-in-love, its drive is the dynamic 
force of contradiction. 

Behind the domestic tragedy hes the tragedy of war. For the sake 
of Helen, whose beauty was unforgettable but whose worth could 
not be demonstrated by reason or defended by argument, Agamem- 
non drained Greece of its manhood and involved the innocent in 
the miseries of a bitter campaign. The Trojans welcomed Helen and 
her captor and so were guilty; but their punishment — the total de- 
struction of their city, their temples, and their men; the enslavement 
and defihng of their women and children — was out of all proportion 
to any harm they had done to Greece. Neither Troy nor Greece 
deserved what the idea of Helen made Agamemnon do to them. 
For he destroyed his own country as well as Troy; many died m 
the years before Ilium, the survivors were drowned or scattered in 
the great storm on the way back; and the pomp of his entrance 
thinly disguises the fact that he brought home the crew of a single 

Because of this, with the war tragedy goes political tragedy as 
well. The means by which this is communicated is through the 
chorus, who, in so far as they function as characters m the play, 
represent the solid elders of Argos These are king's men, since the 
king in the heroic period stands for lawful authority; they have seen 
that Agamemnon's expedition was wrong, and they tell him so 
(799-804), but they would still be loyal to him if he were a much 
worse man than he is. It is these sturdy citizens who tell how, as 
the death reports and the urns full of ashes came in from the front, 
the people at home began to mutter against the king and ask why 
the war was fought; and, though the chorus cannot take their part, 
they cannot deny that there is cause for such mutterings. But the 
people did find a champion, or so they thought, at least a leader, 
Aegisthus, the king's cousin He took advantage of the disaffection 
among those who hated the king he hated, and so returned from 
exile, he won the throne by winning the queen, confirmed his seizure 
by contriving the murder of Agamemnon, and defended it with his 
tyrant's personal bodyguard.* 

6 The word tyrannos ("tyrant") was used by the Greek prose wnters in a semi- 
techmcal sense, and it only gradually became a term of reproach. The tyrant was a 

« 10 » 


Thus we come about once more to the dynastic tragedy of 
Homer. But the interpretations of Agamemnon's murder do not 
exclude one another Aeschylus can work on several levels at once. 
The war tragedy and the political tragedy do not contradict, they 
cohere with and deepen the tragedy of persons. 

On the personal level, Agamemnon works through a complex of 
collisions, not so much right against wrong as right against right, 
each person insisting on his right with the force of passion Agamem- 

self-appointed despot whose career was characteristic m various places at various times 
m Greek history, but especially in the seventh and sixth centuries B c The Athenian 
using the word would think at once of his own tyrants, Peisistratus and his son Hip- 
pias, the restoration of the latter was still a political issue when Aeschylus was a young 
man The following may serve as a general description of the typical early tyrant He 
was an aristocrat, but one who was likely not to be m power while the government 
remained stable He posed as a representative of the underprivileged and won and 
used their support, but generally got his position by unconstitutional means His 
policy was generally to hold more than royal power without assuming any formal 
title, through influence and threat He nevertheless always attempted to found a perma- 
nent dynasty through his sons, but hardly ever succeeded His championship of the 
poorer classes was generally more than a pose, and he frequently worked toward 
broadening the base of democracy Thus his most persistent enemies were not the 
masses but his fellow-aristocrats, except for tlie few he could win over into his own 
personal foUowmg, but, because, m spite of all the good he might do, his very exist- 
ence flouted all legahty, those who loved law and kberty hated him too He had to 
guard himself, and infallible signs of his presence were the bodyguard of professionals 
and the spy system Tyranny was one of the great growing pains m the life of young 
democracy, and history has been unkind to the tyrant, but for solid reasons 

Tyranny actually came later than Homeric or heroic kmgship, and Aeschylus prob- 
ably knew very well that it was anachromstic to see m Aegisthus' usurpation a tyrant's 
coup ie main Yet he seems to have comimtted that anachromsm When the chorus 
hear Agamemnon's death cries and sense murder by the queen and her lover, one of 
them says (1354-55, see also 1365) "Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have 
taken, they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city " In speakmg of tyranny [tyrannts) 
here, either Aeschylus is usmg the word stnctly, or he is not He might use "tyrant" 
loosely, as a synonym for basileus, "kmg" (Eunpides does this) But then the statement 
would have no point whatever, for what could the chorus expect other than that the 
murderer would make himself kmg' Plainly, they fear life not only under the wrong 
ruler but under the wrong kind of government Historically, the tyrant overthrew a 
republic (the lawful constitution), but, m the heroic age on which tragedy drew, there 
was no republic, the lawful constitution was kmgship, therefore, the tyrant overthrew 
this When Aegisthus at last appears, he has his tyrant's bodyguard It is impossible not 
to connect Aegisthus' coup de maw with the rebelhous murmunng of the masses agamst 
the king and his war But the poktical pattern is a submotif, not fully worked out, its 
main effect is to shadow the character of Aegisthus — seducer, murderer, usurper 
already — ^with the dark memory of the hated historical tyrant. 

« II > 


aon, the king, with a king's power and pride m arms, appears briefly 
and IS relatively simple Pride would have driven him without hesi- 
tation to undertake the recovery of Helen, and this decision sets in 
motion a cham of events which becomes increasingly inescapable 
The sacrifice of Iphigeneta, the persistence in besieging Troy, even 
the mtngue with Cassandra, follow necessarily; his pride grows on 
Its own acts, untiljust before death he is a swollen vanity. He himself 
began the series of acts which pile up to overwhelm him, but, look- 
mg back, one cannot see v/here a proud king could have chosen 
otherwise. Clytaemestra's motives are far more complex. Homer 
had made her act in simple surrender and consequent betrayal. But 
Pmdar speculated on motives which would, if admitted by Homer, 
have spoiled the cast of his version: 

Was It Iphigeneia, who at the Eunpos crossing 

was slaughtered far from home, 

that vexed her to drive in anger the hand of violence"" 

Or was It couching m a strange bed 

by mght that broke her will and set her awry — for young wives 
a sin most vile.' 

Two motives to choose from: Iphigeneia or Aegisthus But Pindar 
has already mentioned Cassandra and so implied a third alternative, 
mother-resentment, guilty love, or jealousy. After Pindar, we could 
choose A or B or C. Aeschylus ignores the "or" and takes them all 
Clytaemestra has loved Agamemnon, Iphigeneia has made her hate 
him, she loves Aegisthus. But her love for Agamemnon was real, and 
enough of that love remains to waken perfectly real jealousy at the 
sight of Agamemnon's lovely captive. This also moves her enormous 
pride, which amounts to unprecedented ambitionfor dynastic power. 
The women of the heroic age are represented as people of character, 
with will and temper of their own; but if their men insist, they must 
give way. Force them and they love. Cassandra, Clytaemestra's foil 
and rival, has seen her city and people wiped out by Agamemnon, her 
father and brothers butchered by his followers, but she chngs to him. 
So Briseis m the Iliad clmgs to Achilles, who has personally killed 
her husband, and so Sophocles makes his Tecmessa protest to Aias 
7. Pmdar Pyth 11 l2-is, traos Lattimore. 

« 12 » 


that she loves him, for she has no one else, since he has destroyed her 
home.' Not so Clytaemestra, who, hke Helen her sister, chooses her 
own loves. Agam, the code obviously allowed the warlord, married 
or uamamed, to have the comforts of a captive mistress on cam- 
paign But if Clytaemestra did not like a code, she would smash it. 
With her "male strength of heart in its high confidence," she steps 
boldly from the sphere of women's action mto that of men;' like a 
king, she handles the city in her lord's absence, and to her the hostile 
and suspicious chorus turns with unwilling admiration. When the 
chorus doubts her intelligences, again when after the murder they 
openly challenge her, she faces them down and silences them; and 
It IS only on the appearance of Aegisthus, whom they despise as they 
cannot despise Clytaemestraj that they break out rebelliously again. 
Even in deceit, as in shameless defiance, she is stately (855-88, 1667). 
She IS the bom aristocrat, heiress by birth as by marriage to the 
power and wealth of kings, and so contemptuous of the nouveau 
riche (1042-46) Everything she does and says is in the grand man- 
ner. The chain of beacon fires linkmg Argos and Troy, defeating 
distance and time, is a characteristically grand gesture, and worthy 
of It are the arrogant Imes in which she concludes her story of re- 
layed signal flares (315-16): 

By such proof and such symbol I announce to you 
my lord at Troy has sent his messengers to me. 

Such is the spirit of her grandiose welcome to Agamemnon, the 
purple carpet on which he is forced to walk to his butchery, and the 
words m which such lavish outlay is defended, "the sea is there," 
with Its plain implication that "the sea is ours." 

Such characteristics give Clytaemestra stature, but in no sense 
justify her. It is not only that, m assertmg her right, or at least de- 
termmation, to act as freely as a man, she has taken to her bed the 

8. The most detailed Attic study of the womanly woman in the heroic age is 
Eunpides' Andromache m the play named after her. It is she who says (213-14.). 
"A wife, even if she 15 given to a worthless man, should cling to hun, not set her will 
up against his " It is noteworthy that her definitions of a woman's duties occur in 
debate with her Spartan rival, Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen. 

9. When she refers to herself as "a mere woman," it is with massive sarcasm (34.8, 
590-J(7. 1661). 

« 13 » 


"womanish" Aegisthus The whole house has been wrong since the 
quarrel of Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus was hideous in murder, but 
this does not justify Aegisthus in murdering Agamemnon, any more 
than the sins of Agamemnon justified his murder by Clytaemestra, 
or the sins of Pans and Helen justified the obliteration of Troy. All 
the executioners plead that they act for just retribution, but the chain 
of murder has got out of hand and is perpetuating itself, until it 
seems no longer to come from personal purpose but has grown into 
a Curse, a Thing. Every correction is a blood-bath which calls for 
new correction. 

The truth stands ever beside God's throne 
eternal he who has wrought shall pay, that is law 
Then who shall tear the curse from their blood'' 
The seed is stiffened to rum. 

Clytaemestra answers, over the corpse of Agamemnon, that she 
has been bloody but the house is clean. No more evil need be done. 
Orestes is to make the same claim over the corpse of Clytaemestra 
herself. Both are mistaken. 

The tragedy is no simple matter of right and wrong, of pride and 
fall, though these enter m. It is a matter of love and hate working 
simultaneously to force distorted action, and the situation is given 
depth by cross-charactenzation.|)Clytaemestra imagines before the 
chorus the scene in captured Troy, opening with savage satisfaction 
in the thought of what is going on and closing with a prayer for 
peace, that her husband and his men may use their victory temper- 
ately, so that no fresh wrong may follow. As she speaks these words, 
she is herself plotting the fresh wrong she deprecates^here is sur- 
face contradiction, but under it lies not only the fact that Clytae- 
mestra IS intensely proud of the husband she is about to murder but 
also the lyric imagination, akin to the diviner's gift, by which the 
character's mind can transcend time and distance and penetrate to a 
sphere of objective truth which is beyond the character's own desire 
and prejudice. When she tells Agamemnon and the public of the 
torments she went through in his absence at Troy, she is flattering 
him and misleading all, but by means of truth, not fiction. This is the 
past, and this is real. 

« 14. » 


It IS evil and a thing of terror when a wife 
sits in the house foriorn witb no man by. 

Flattery, confession, reproach combine (through how much longing 
for the memory-ghost, as with Menelaus for Helen, might Clytae- 
mestra have gone before she took Aegisthus as a lover; or even 
after') Agamemnon, on the point of being entangled by flattery 
and dragged to his death, soberly describes himself as proof against 
flatterers In a sense this is irony, it corresponds to his entrance full 
of the pride of capture on the heels of a warning by the chorus against 
pride, to the gloomy speculations of the chorus on sackers of cities 
that presages the return of the herald to tell of Troy's obliteration. 
But that IS mainly a matter of timing; here the point is that Aga- 
memnon's inteUigence is partly engaged with the course he does not 
mean to take. He is proof against illusions except at the one point 
where they will be fatal to him. When Aegisthus, m the height of 
his dispute with the challenging chorus (1668), says of Orestes, 
Exiles feed on empty dreams of hope I know it. I was one, 

the Jibe turns into a flash of instantly forgotten sympathy. The ac- 
tors, in particular Clytaemestra and the chorus, do not collide with 
purely external forces but act always against a part of their own will 
or sympathy which is committed to the other side, and what they kill 
IS what they love 

The action of the play in itself, of the trilogy as a whole, is thus 
bound inward upon itself. Its course is not logical, not even strictly 
dramatic sequence. After the fashion of choral lyric, it is both united 
to itself and given inward dimension through persistent ideas and 
a complex of symbols. 

Idea and Symbol 

By "idea" I mean motive, theme of subject, or type of situation 
which is dominant in the dramatic action. By "symbol" I mean a 
particular thing, usually material, which may be taken to represent 
the idea. And by a "complex of symbols" I mean a group of such 
objects which are related to one another in their nature or use. 

The exhaustive study of this technique and the detailing of its 

< 15 > 


uses is a proper study for a monograph, not for a segment of the m- 
troduction to a translation " I will content myself with illustrating 
the principle through the symbol-complex of the net. 

A central motive in the Oresteia is the idea of entanglement: the 
taming of wild things, the subjugation of the powerful, the involve- 
ment of innocent creatures as well. It is expressed in the curb forged 
to subdue Troy (132) or Cassandra (1066); the bit that gags Iphi- 
geneia (234); the yoke of circumstance that forces Agamemnon to 
his crime; the yoke of slavery forced on Troy (529), on Cassandra 
(953. 1071, 1226), on the defiant citizens (1635), even the yoke of 
teammates (842); the snare of the huntsman, in which Agamemnon 
captures Troy (358, 821) and Cassandra (1048) and in which he is 
presently captured (1115, 1375, 1611)." Curb, yoke, snare — differ- 
ent objects for rekted purposes — might have been no more than 
persistent and thematic metaphor, but they have one embodiment 
which IS not metaphorical, and this is the robe or shawl in which 
Clytaemestra actually entangles Agamemnon in order to strike him 
down and which is to be displayed on stage as a murder exhibit by 
Orestes in The Libation Bearers (980-84, 997-1004) Clytaemestra 
anticipates herself when she tells of her dreams and imaginations of 
terror in Agamemnon's long absence (866-68): 
Had Agamemnon taken all 
the wounds the tale whereof was carried home to me, 
he had been cut fviU of gashes like a fishing net, 

and returns to her imagery in her challenging confession of murder 

as fishermen cast their huge archng nets, I spread 
deadly abundance of nch robes and caught him fast. 

This is the idea seen in the thing and the thmg embodying the 
idea, both in metaphor and in action. There are numerous other 
symbols and other ideas. Symbols are the snake (specially the viper) 
and the poison of the snake; the archer; the house; the ship; gold. 

10 Miss Barbara Hughes is at present working on such a monograph as a doctoral 

II. The idea of the manhunt appears in the retnbuttve expedition against Troy 
{127, (595), and in The Eumemdes it characterizes the Funes' pursuit of Orestes. ^ 

<t 16 » 


Ideas are (in addition to entanglement) persuasion (flattery); re- 
current sickness; hate-m-love; blood and sex; light in the dark; 
sound (of terror) m the night; dream and memory The bare lists 
are not complete, and, in particular, neither symbols nor ideas are 
exclusive, nor does a given symbol stand toward a given idea in a 
one-to-one relation. The viper, who turns against his own family, 
whose mating is murder, stands principally for the idea of hate-in- 
love and, as such, might be called the prime symbol of the Oresteia, 
but its poison is involved also in the idea of recurrent sickness,'"" and 
Its coils in the idea of entanglement (elsewhere signified by yoke, 
net, etc., as we have seen) So The Libation Bearers, 24.6-4.9: 


the orphaned children of the eagle-father, now 
that he has died entangled m the binding coils 
of the deadly viper. 

The spider web m which Agamenanon was trapped (1492) is one 
more variation of entanglement, spun by another creature who mur- 
ders in marriage. Entanglement may come by outright force or by 
seduction and surprise. Clytaemestra lures Agamemnon into it by 
flattery, persuasion, by her sex (11 16): 

Or IS the trap the woman there, the murderess? 

Cross-bindmg and coherence of idea in symbol is seen where Aga- 
memnon recoils (he is soon to surrender) from stepping on the 
gorgeous robe Clytaemestra has spread at his feet (922-27) 

Such state becomes the gods, and none beside. 
I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample down 
these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path. 
I tell you, as a man, not god, to reverence me. 
Discordant is the murmur at such treading down 
of lovely things. 

On the level of discourse, the speech is moral. The male rationalism 

IS fightmg against the irrational persuasion of the woman, the Greek 

defends his code ("as if I were some Asiatic"),the long deprecates the 

12. The word pahnkotos might signify a sickness or poisoning which hes hidden in 
the system, seemingly gone, then recurs, or the viper, which re-coils upon itself, or 
those so close to it that tliey form z part of itself. 

< 17 » 


subjects' disapproval , this is colored also by lyric memory The "tread- 
ing down of lovely things" recalls Pans, who "trampled down the 
delicacy of things inviolable" (371) and on whom Persuasion also 
worked (385) Agamemnon, who punished the barbarians, is being 
turned barbarian in order to be punished He is a victim of his wife's 
flattery and the magnificence of his own possessions. Lastly, the 
robe Itself on which he walks prefigures the robe m which he is to 
be entangled and killed. 

Cut anywhere into the play, and you will find such a nexus of in- 
tercrossing motives and properties. The system gives the play its 
inner dimension and strength An analogous but separable principle 
dominates the larger structure. 

Dramatic Structure and Lyric Dimension 

As theater, Agamemnon and its companion pieces are simple The 
scene of Agamemnon is the familiar fixed position before the doors 
of a house, which is, as most often in subsequent drama and in the 
nature of things, a palace. The same setting serves for The Ltbation 
Bearers, The Eumenides has one of those shifts of scene which are 
relatively rare in extant Greek tragedy, for we begin before the doors 
of Phoebus at Delphi and end before the doors of Athene in Athens, 
but this shift can easily be signified by addition or subtraction of a 
very few properties. 

Characters are used sparingly Aeschylus has at his disposal the 
three actors who were by now allotted to each poet or producer; 
but, far from revehng in this sober allowance, he is most reluctant 
to use all three at once in speaking action Cassandra is on stage 
with Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, but does not speak until the 
other actors (not counting the chorus or chorus leader) have gone 
out." Dialogue is, for the most part, just that, a passage between 

13 Clytaemestra, apparently on stage at 83, does not respond to the chorus at that 
point and remauis silent through their stasmxon (ode), she speaks only when, 258-63, 
they address her again In The Libation Bearers Pylades, present almost through the 
entire play, speaks only three Imes (900-902), these have critical force in the action 
In Prometheus, the titan is silent all through the first scene, where he is being fastened 
to the rock We know also that Aeschylus exploited the silent character in many of 

« 18 > 


two persons, one of whom may be the chorus leader, at a time, not 
as m modern drama a complex in which three, four, or a dozen 
speaking persons participate. There are supernumeraries to be sure, 
handmaidens attendmg Clytaemestra and soldiers returnmg with 
Agamemnon, the significant bodyguard of Aegisthus, and at the 
close of The Eumenides the stage is quite full of people, and the exodus 
takes on the dignity of a processional. Agamemnon clearly must 
enter with Cassandra beside him in a horse-drawn chariot The un- 
rolling of the robe for Agamemnon's feet is an effective use of showy 
gesture Yet, on the whole, the trilogy is physically unpretentious, re- 
lying less on staging and properties than Prometheus appears to do Al- 
so, It is physically static ; not much physical activity or motion is called 
for. The use made of materials, of what might appeal to the eye, is 
measured and temperate 

There is a corresponding simplicity in plot Considering the length 
of Agamemnon, there are few events that take place, nor are the 
major events displayed against any variety of subplot It therefore 
takes dramatic time for these events to happen The return of Aga- 

his lost plays On the silent charaaers of Aeschylus, see the scene m the Frogs of 
Aristophanes, where the ghost of Euripides challenges that of Aeschylus in the pres- 
ence of Dionysus and Hades (911-22) 

"Eur First of all he would cover a character's face and make him sit on the stage 

Achilles, maybe, or Niobe, but never show their features 
They made his tragedy look fine, but didn't mutter a syllable. 

"Dion By god, you know, they didn't at that. 

"Eur The chorus would pound out long chams 

of poetry, four one after another. The characters said nothmg 

"Dion You know, I liked them quiet that way. They gave me as much pleasure 
as the ones that gabble at us now. 

"Eur . Of course You were a half-wit 

and that's a fact . 

"Dion • I know, I know Tell me then, why did he do it' 

"Eur • To lead you on, and keep the audience m suspense They were waitmg 
for Niobe to speak Meanwhile his play was gettmg over. 

"Dion • The dirty rat' So all that time he was cheatmg us out of our drama. 

[To Aesch.) Why are you frownmg and looking so cross' 
"Eur : I'm exposmg him. He doesn't like it." 

X 19 » 


mcmnon, assured from the watchman's openmg speech (25), 
does not take place until line 782 The only other event of the play 
is his murder, which does not take place until hne 1344 Audience 
and actors occupy the times preceding these events in a growing 
strain of suspense, which gives the events redoubled impact when 
at last they do take place. The means by which the anomaly of many 
hnes-little action is solved are the same as the means by which action 
and motive are deepened. The simplicity is on the surface As, on 
its major plane, the action of the tragedy moves deliberately forward, 
in another dimension lyric memory and forecast take us, by associa- 
tion of ideas rather than in obedience to order m time, deep away 
into the past, the future, and the eLewhere. 

Memory and forecast are a part of imagination, that divining 
spirit which takes men beyond the limits of what their senses can 
perceive. He who habitually, and under patronage of a god, so 
divmes is the mantis or prophet. The prophet knew "all thmgs that 

14 Much unnecessary ingenuity has been wasted on the problem of "real" time in 
Agamemnon By means of her beacons, Clytaemestra is understood to learn of Troy's 
capture just after the event, almost withm the hour (320) The return voyage from 
Troy to Argos is a three or four days' sallmg, hardly shortened by the hurricane that 
wrecked the fleet; and, further, Homer and the other sources on which tragedy drew 
make it plam that the Achaeans did not pick up and go home the moment Troy fell 
but understandably took some time getting off Therefore, the arnval of the herald, 
followed by Agamemnon, comes days after the first scene of the play. This is true, but 
creates a problem only for those unduly preoccupied with the Aristotelian umtie'i. 
"Tragedy mes as far as practicable to fall withm the scope of a single day, or exceeds 
it by only a little" (Poetics v 8) The statement of Anstotle is not made as if he meant 
to press It very hard Also it should not be necessary, but apparently is, to pomt out 
that Aeschylus had never heard of Aristotle To Aeschylus, the next thing that hap- 
pened in the plot, after the arnval of the news, was the arnval of the Achaeans It would 
have been, to him, as pointless as it would have been ugly to have the chorus solemnly 
qmt the stage and return after the postmg of a placard saymg "six days later " What 
he does put m is a long choral lync m which the choristers muse on the whole tram of 
action (though not m chronological order) from the flight of Helen to the fall of Troy, 
thus givmg m lync form the illusion that far more time has passed than the real time 
it has actually taken them to deliver their ode At 1 475, after the lync closes, they be- 
gm to speak "m charaaer " Their mood has changed, before the ode they were utterly 
convmced by Clytaemestra's beacons, now they are unconvmced and sarcastic After 
the herald's speeches, they inform Clytaemestra that she has been nght all along, and 
she tells them she has done her rgoicmg long a£o By now, we are plainly meant to 
understand that a lapse of time has occurred, but not encouraged to figure out Just 
how much, or how it could have happened. 

« 20 » 


were, the things to come, and the things past" (Iliad i. 70); that is, 
he knew not only past and future, but present, what is occurring 
right now beyond that fragmentary point of space where he stands, 
Calchas the prophet of the Achaeans is remembered in the first ode, 
Cassandra the prophetess of Troy appears in person. But, apart from 
these formal prophets, the chorus assumes divining powers ("still 
by God's grace there surges within me singing magic": "why this 
strain unwanted, unrepaid, thus prophetic?"), and the imaginations 
of Clytaemestra, the herald, Agamemnon, and Aegisthus range far 
away. Calchas, in the memory of the chorus, goes deep mto the past 
in order to make predictions which will be fulfilled, years away, 
m the subsequent action of the tragedy. Cassandra, who knows of a 
past she never witnessed, sees in its light the mvisible network of 
treachery that waits for Agamemnon and her. The swan, who sings 
in the face of death and is helplessly dedicated to Apollo, is her 

The choristers remember in their entrance chant the departure 
of the armament ten years ago (40-59), and it makes them see the 
struggle going on in Troy (60-^8). They remember the portents 
that attended the gathering of the ships, the predictions of Calchas, 
and the sacrifice of Iphigeneia that was their sequel (104-257). 
Clytaemestra's living imagination follows the course of her beacon 
system, itself a device to defeat space and diminish time, as it breaks 
out from peak to peak on its way to her (281-316), and she sees the 
Achaeans in captured Troy, now, though far away (320-37) The 
chorus broods on the moral that Troy fallen conveys, but they thmk 
in pictures; of a man secure m wealth kicking over an altar (the au- 
dience will remember the golden Persians, their pride, sacrilege, and 
defeat); of Persuasion as a siren; of false fires and spurious metal 
gilded; of a greedy innocent child trying to catch a bird — the images, 
not the propositions, of delusion (367-95). This is Pans, and they 
fall at once to re-creating in imagination the flight of Helen (403-8). 
And there were prophets there, to be sure, who imagined the loneli- 
ness to follow for Menelaus with an empty bed and empty-eyed 
images of his wife, whose loveliness eluded him in dreams (408-26). 
But ,dream image is memory image, and there are others who rc- 

21 » 


member too. The families of the common soldiers see brought back 
to them the ashes of their dead, transubstantiated by the money- 
changer, who IS the god of war. They murmur against the king; 
their muttering is inarticulate and not clearly heard in high places 
but may be the symptom of a storm that waits for the returning 
kmg (427-74). Te deum laudamus has been transformed into fore- 
boding, not through logical succession of ground and consequent 
but through a lyric succession of images whose forms melt into one 
another Agamemnon's herald remembers the campaigning before 
Troy (551-81). At first, it is the dirty and brutal details of war-busi- 
ness that come out of the mist, but the sense of achievement infects 
him with Agamemnon's fatal pride, so that at the end the wings of 
his imagination take him out of the past across the present and far 
into the future and the days when the capture of Troy will be an 
antique glory of Argos. He is shaken out of this mood, however, 
by the questioning of the chorus leader, who wants to know what 
happened to the rest of the army and to Menelaus. He tells of the 
storm (650-70) in terms that make living things out of fire, wind, 
water, and rocks, and shows the wide seascape on which at dawn 
lay the wreckage of the Achaean fleet, torn flowers on the water. 

The chorus, far now from the momentary exaltation they felt at 
news of the victory, now chant in terms of disaster: the sinister name 
of Helen, with the imagination once again of her flight to Troy 
(681-98), the lion's cuhrthe pet turned murderous (716-36), who is 
fatal Helen beguiling the Trojans (737-49). We remember Iphige- 
neia when Helen's eyes, like Iphigeneia's, sweep the beholder with 
soft arrows, and the victorious and guileful charmer recalls the mno- 
cent charmer who failed. The moralities which follow to prelude 
Agamemnon's entrance, the terms in which he is greeted, work again 
through images, houses gilded to hide dust, false coin, the smile of 
the charmer Action follows in the pubhc encounter of Clytaemestra 
and Agamemnon, but the wife's welcome brings back out of the 
past the fears that attended her during the years of separation (858- 
94). When he has gone into the house, the chorus turn uneasily from 
memory to forecast, and their gloom is abetted by Cassandra, who 
has vision on vision of the past, of the present (the intention behmd 

« 22 » 


Clytaemestra's face and words, the scene preparing behind closed 
doors), and the far future on the day when the avengers shall punish 
for the crime not yet committed (1069-1330) The death cry tells 
the chorus only what they already know We do not see the murder 
take place, but we are told what happened (1381-92) In the scene 
that follows, where Clytaemestra faces the people, neither side can 
escape the memory of the hideous past which has forced these things 
to happen Aegisthus' defense is a recounting of the crime of Atreus 
(1583-1611) At the end, Clytaemestra speaks as if all were over, but 
we know it is not, that the future holds more violence and it is the 
past which has made this so 

Lyric Tragedy 

The brief dramatic time of the play is a point of convergence for 
actions that come from deep in the past and project far into the fu- 
ture The limited stage is a pivotal point from which we can be 
transported far away The tragedy of Agamemnon, Cassandra, and 
Clytaemestra is mvolved with and opens into the tragedy of the 
children of Thyestes, of Iphigeneia, of Troy and all the Achaean 
army, and its action, in return, is partly dictated by the figures never 
enacted, remote but always present in memory, of Atreus, Iphige- 
neia, Pans, and Helen 

This is the form of lyric tragedy, perfected here and never since 
so completely realized Its manner is due partly to the historical ac- 
cident in which two forms of fiction were combined, drama, still 
relatively primitive and naive, with choral lync, now, after genera- 
tions of mature practice, brought to its highest point of development 
by Simomdes and Pindar. But the direction taken by this form is due 
also to deliberate choice The desire is to transcend the limitations of 
dramatic presentation, even before these limitations have been firmly 
established The spirit is that of Shakespeare's chorus in Henry V: 

15 We may compare The Persians The cast of actors consists only of Darius, his 
queen, Xerxes, messenger, and chorus The visible scene in Persia is static But the 
scene of the action which the play is about is Salairus, and then all the water and land 
between, the persons of this action are all the vast army of the Persians, and all the 
Greeks. The Persians is the great messenger-play 

« 23 » 


But pardon, gentles all. 
The flat unraised spirits that have dared 
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth 
So great an object can this cockpit hold 
The vasty fields of France' Or may we cram 
Withm this wooden O the very casques 
That did iffnght the air at Agincourt' 

It IS true that Shakespeare intends to take us to the actual field of 
Agincourt, but principally he is aware of the impossibility of staging 
expeditions and battles adequately, and the appeal is to the imagina- 
tion of the audience 

For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, 

Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times. 

Turning the accomplishment of many years 

Into an hour-glass 

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies 
In motion of no less celerity 
Than that of thought 

Shakespeare and Aeschylus alike forecast combinations which only 
the motion picture can realize visually — flashback, imaginary scene, 
pictorial dramatization of history, and messenger's account Shake- 
speare's concern in this particular play with the fragmentary nature 
of staged action gives his chorus a brilliant part, but it is only a ghost 
of Aeschylus, for in Aeschylus the past and the elsewhere dominate 
present action. 

But the direction in which he steered tragedy was not generally 
followed Sophoclean drama prevailed, since Euripides, under 
protest, framed tragedy m accordance with Sophocles, not Aeschy- 
lus Sophocles turned tragedy inward upon the principal actors, and 
drama becomes drama of character. His plays may open with public 
scenes, but, as they progress, the interest focuses hard on the hero. 
Oedipus Tyrannus begins with the plague in Thebes, but its ending 
is all Oedipus, and Thebes is as good as forgotten. It is true that the 
dead hand reaches out of the past to strike down Oedipus, Antigone, 
Aias, Heracles. But this is their tragedy, and theirs alone. Agamemnon 
IS a play about the Trojan War, but Anttgone is not a play about the 

« 24 * 


Theban War, though that hes in the background In Sophocles, the 
choruses are commentaries on the action, not part of the larger ac- 
tion, and their imagery is functional to the choruses themselves but 
not to the tragedy as a whole. Trilogy gives way to single drama. 
The enormous background becomes mainly irrelevant and is 
screened out. Lyric tragedy gives way to actor's tragedy. 

Agamemnon is, in fact, the culmination of lyric tragedy, because 
the action narrows in The Libation Bearers, and when m The Eutnen- 
ides it opens out again, it is with a new kind of meaning and com- 

''The Libation Bearers'' 

The second play of the trilogy takes place some years after the 
close of Agamemnon The usurpers have grown secure in power. 
Orestes, sequestered in Phocis, is now a young man, and his sister 
Electra, resentful and bitter, awaits his return. The opening event is 
simple recognition, the identification of Orestes and the confirmation 
of the fact that, as Electra and the chorus hope, he means to avenge 
his father and regain his throne. Recognition is thus at once trans- 
formed into conspiracy. The children, with their faithful chorus, 
gather at Agamemnon's tomb, where Electra has gone on her 
mother's behalf, but without sympathy for her, to propitiate the 
dead king by reason of terrifying dreams which had shaken Clytae- 
mestra in the night. The dead king is now a hero; his arrogance and 
his mistakes have been annulled by death, and his grave is a center 
of power Therefore, the children with the chorus turn to him, m- 
voke his ghost to anger against his murderers, with twofold driving 
intention: to enchant actual power out of the spirit and the grave 
and to incite themselves and arm themselves with the anger that 
will make them do what they must do They then plot the means 
for assassination Orestes poses as a traveling merchant who brings 
news of the death of Orestes, Clytaemestra, with archaic and stately 
courtesy, invites hira in and sends for Aegisthus As the messenger 
who is sent to summon him (she happens to be the slave who nursed 
Orestes when he was litde) goes out on her errand, she encounters 
the chorus, who tell her not to suggest that Aegisthus should brmg 

« 25 » 


his bodyguard. Orestes and Pylades kill the king, and Clytaemestra 
stands at their mercy. She dares Orestes to kill her, and he stands 
irresolute until a word from Pylades solidifies his will The bodies 
are brought out and displayed, with the robe in which Agamemnon 
had been entrapped, and Orestes declares publicly, as Clytaemestra 
had done, that this act is his own and that it is justice But his wits 
are going, he sees the Furies, the avenging spirits of his mother (no 
one else can see them), and leaves in flight This time, even before 
the play is over, the assassin knows that his act was not final but has 
created more suffering yet to come 

Once again the plot is simple, and the dramatic actions are few. 
Once again, despite these facts, the texture is saved from thinness, 
but the factors are different from those that give Agamemnon its co- 
herence. First, this IS a far shorter play. Second, the emphasis and 
direction have changed. We have, in a sense, more plot, there is in- 
trigue, a practical problem. In Agamemnon the king's murder is felt 
by the witnessing chorus in their bones, it happens, is mourned, and 
defended. The problems of Clytaemestra, whether she can kill the hus- 
band she has loved and how she will do it, are implicit, but we are 
not present while she is solving them. But in The Libation Bearers, 
we are present at the deliberations of Orestes as he decides whether 
he can kill his mother, and how the assassination is to be effected. In 
recognition, decision, conspiracy, and climactic action we have, in 
fact, the mechanism, in naive or even crude form, of that drama of 
revenge or play of successful action which we found in the Homeric 

But The Lihation Bearers is only superficially a drama of intrigue, 
and, in so far as it is one, it is hardly a significant specimen of its 
kind. The mechanism of the assassin's plot is simple, as the mecha- 
nism of recognition and identification is primitive The emphasis 
lies on the mood in which the characters act 

For this is not a simple revenge play m which the young hero, 
long lost, returns to his sister and his kingdom to strike down the 
murderous and usurping villains. Orestes hardly gets a sight of his 
kingship before he must leave, haunted, driven, and alone. It is not 
until much later, near the close of The Eumenides, that he can speak 

« 26 » 


as a king with subjects Also, here the emotions of Orestes and Elec- 
tra are, hke those of Clytaemestra, half-committed to the side against 
which they act; and Clytaemestra, in turn, loves the son whom she 
fears, who kills her, and whom she would kill if she could It is the 
phlos-aphilos still, or love-in-hate, the murder committed not against 
an external enemy but against a part of the self.'* The hate gains in- 
tensity from the strength of the original love when that love has 
been stopped or rejected Electra ("the unmarried") has love to 
lavish, but her mother has turned it aside The chorus, like the cap- 
tive women they are, cling to the memory of Agamemnon, who en- 
slaved them Orestes, together with the sense of outrage over the 
loss of his rightful inheritance (the dynastic motive), nurses a deep 
sense of jealousy against his mother for having sacrificed not only 
Agamemnon but Orestes to her love for Aegisthus The children 
were the price for which she bought herself this man (132-34) It is 
the venom of such jealousy that spills out in the bitterly salacious 
mockery of the dead lovers, and jealousy on his father's behalf and 
his own IS the theme of his last sharp dispute with his mother. Cly- 
taemestra, when she hears the false news of her son's death, is in a 
temper where rehef and sorrow cross, though relief wins. Her very 
dream of bearing and nursing the snake (symbol of ingratitude), who 
fixes his poisonous fangs in her breast, enacts terror through a ges- 
ture of love Aegisthus, at the word that Orestes is dead, goes soberly 
back to the image of the poison and the snake. 

For our house, already bitten 
and poisoned, to take this new load upon itself 
would be a thing of dripping fear and blood 

The chorus consider that both the tyrants are hypocrites, but even 
such hypocrites know what they are doing, and to whom. 

This mood of tangled motivation means that the conspirators 
must work strongly upon themselves before they can act Between 
the recognition and the resolve to act comes a scene of incantation. 

16 So Hamlet is transformed from the vigorous revenge-intrigue drama it might 
have been into the tragedy it is, because Hamlet is emotionally involved with the queen 
and Ophelia, who are on the side of the enemy Even the arch-enemy is close m blood 
and perhaps once admired. 

« 27 » 


Sister, brother, and chorus turn to invoke dead Agamemnon They 
implore his blessings and aid, they set forth their grievances and his, 
they challenge and taunt him to action: 

Think of that bath, father, where you were stripped of life. 

Think of the casting-net that they contrived for you. 

They caught you like a beast m toils no bronzesmith made. 

Rather, hid you m shrouds that were thought out in shame. 


Will you not waken, father to these challenges'' 

Will you not rear upright that best beloved head? 
But, while they are invoking a power and a tradition whose force 
is felt but only dimly believed, they are also lashing themselves mto 
the fury of self-pity that will make them do what they have to do. 
So the theme of lyric prophecy which was at work in Agamemnon 
IS altered here. There is dealing in both cases with what lies beyond 
the powers of perception, but there it was lyric memory and vision 
on the part of those who were to witness, and to suffer from, the 
ugly act; here those who are themselves about to commit the ugly 
act manipulate the unseen, in a mood more of witchcraft than of 

For this reason and because the drama focuses on the will to act. 
The Libation Bearers ties back to Agamemnon, but Agamemnon tics 
back to the whole world of action latent behmd the beginnmg of the 
tragedy. The symbols of the earlier play are caught up and intensi- 
fied, parucularly viper and net. But the emphasis is changed, because 
we sec thmgs from the point of view of the murderers. In Agamem- 
non, vice was alluring, wearing all the captivatmg graces of Helen 
and her attendant symbols, m The Libation Bearers, duty becomes 
repulsive. Both tragedies are earned on a strong underdrift of sex, 
but in the second play the sex impulse, though it works, has lost its 
charm. Orestes at the end has done a brutal, necessary job. 

« 28 » 


Like Clytaemestra at the close of Agamemnon, Orestes defends 
his position in terms of: "I have cleared my house It was bloody, 
but necessary. Now we can have peace " As for Clytaemestra, his 
claim is no better than a desperate challenge flung at circumstances 
The blood-bath was no cleanmg-out, and it means more blood 
Clytaemestra had to reckon with resentment m the state and the 
younger generation to come. The enlightenment of Orestes, the de- 
feat of his hollow optimism, comes without delay. "The house has 
been rid of snakes": and at once, on the heads of his mother's Furies, 
more snakes appear. 

^'The Eumenides" (The Furies) 

As we have seen (see above, p. 6), the last act of the trilogy finds 
Orestes cleared by Apollo but still pursued by the Furies. Is he clear, 
or not? Plainly, one divine decision has clashed with another de- 
cision which IS also unquestionably divme. The fate of Orestes is 
referred to Athens and to a third divinity, Athene, who, reservmg 
for herself the casting ballot, refers it to a jury of mortal men When 
their vote is even and Athene has cast her decidmg vote m his favor, 
the Furies must be propitiated by a new cult, as a new kind of god- 
dess, in Athens. It is this episode that closes the play and the trilogy 
of the House of Atreus The chorus has returned to its archaic part 
as chief character in the drama. 

Who are the Furies, and what do they mean' And, since they 
stand up and identify themselves and protest their rights in the face 
of Apollo and Athene, we must also ask. What do these better- 
known Olympians represent for the purposes of Aeschylus' 

As seen in the grand perspective, Agamemnon was only an un- 
willing agent m a chain of action far bigger than the fortunes of a 
smgle man. From the seduction of Atreus' wife, the murder of the 
children of Atreus, the sacrifice of Iphigeneia and the youth of Hel- 
las, claim and counterclaim have been fiercely sustained, each act of 
blood has been avenged in a new act of blood. The problems of pub- 
lic good have been solved through private murder, which is no solu- 
tion^ until the situation has become intolerable to the forces that rule 

« 29 > 


the world, and these must intervene to see that the contestants and 
the impulses m nature which drive the contestants become recon- 
ciled and find their places m a scheme that will be harmonious and 
progressive, not purely destructive. 

Behind the personal motivations in the two first dramas of the 
trilogy, we can, if we choose, discern a conflict of related forces, of 
the younger against the elder generation, of male against female; of 
Greek against barbarian. As the gods step out of the darkness, where, 
before, they could be reached only in fitful visions of the prophetic 
mind, and take their place on the stage, they personify these general 
forces, and, because they are divme and somewhat abstract, they can 
carry still further dimensions of meaning. The Furies are older than 
Apollo and Athene, and, being older, they are childish and barba- 
rous; attached to Clytaemestra as mother, they are themselves fe- 
male and represent the woman's claim to act which Clytaemestra 
has sustained from the beginning; in a Greek world they stand for the 
childhood of the race before it won Hellenic culture, the barbarian 
phase of pre-Hellenism, the dark of the race and of the world; they 
have archaic uprightness and strictness m action, with its attendant 
cruelty; they insist on the fact against the idea, they ignore the justi- 
fications of Orestes, for the blood on his hands means far more than 
the reasons why the blood is there. Apollo stands for everything 
which the Furies are not: Hellenism, civilization, intellect, and en- 
lightenment. He IS male and young. He despises cruelty for the fun 
of cruelty, and the thirst for blood, but he is as ruthless as the Furies. 
The commonwealth of the gods — therefore the universe — is in a 
convulsion of growth; the young Olympians are fighting down 
their own barbaric past. 

But they must not fight it out of existence. In the impasse, Apollo 
uses every threat of arrogant force, but Athene, whose nature rec- 
onciles female with male, has a wisdom deeper than the intelligence 
of Apollo. She clears Orestes but concedes to the detested Furies 
what they had not known they wanted, a place in the affections of a 
civilized community of men, as well as in the divine hierarchy. 
There, gracious and transformed though they are, their place in the 
world is still made potent by the unchanged base of their character. 

« 30 » 


The new city cannot progress by exterminating its old order of life; 
it must absorb and use it Man cannot obliterate, and should not re- 
press, the unintelligible emotions Or again, m different terms, man's 
nature being what it is and Fury being a part of it. Justice must go 
armed with Terror before it can work 

Thus, through the dilemma of Orestes and its solution, the 
drama of the House of Atreus has been transformed into a grand 
parable of progress Persuasion (flattery), the deadly magic of the 
earlier plays, has been turned to good by Athene as she wms the 
Furies to accept of their own free will a new and better place in the 
world. By the time Orestes leaves the stage, he has become an issue, 
a Dred Scott or Dreyfus, more important for what he means than 
for what he is; and, when he goes, the last human personality is 
gone, and with it vanish the bloody entanglements of the House of 
Atreus, as the anonymous citizens of Athens escort their protecting 
divinities into the beginning of a new world 

It IS appropriate, and characteristic of Aeschylus, that this final 
parable, with its tremendous burden of thought, should be enacted 
on the frame of a naive dramatic structure, where the basis of de- 
cision on matricide is as crude as the base of Portia's decision against 
Shylock. The magnificence of The Eumemdes is different from that 
of Agamemnon The imagery — the lyric imagination m memory and 
magic — is gone, because we are not now merely to see but to under- 
stand The final act comes down into the present day and seals 
withm Itself the wisdom, neither reactionary nor revolutionary, of 
a great man. But in its own terms The Eumemdes is the necessary 
conclusion of a trilogy whose special greatness lies in the fact that 
It transcends the limitations of dramatic enactment on a scale never 
achieved before or since. 

« 31 » 


Translated by 








Chorus of Argive Elders 

Attendants of Clytaemestra- of Agamemnon: bodyguard 
of Aegisthus {all silent parts) 

Time, directly after the fall of Troy 


Scene Argos, before the palace of King Agamemnon The Watchman, 
who speaks the opening hnes, ts posted on the roof of the palace. 
Clytaetnestra's entrances are made from a door in the center of the 
stage; all others, from the wings 

(The Watchman, alone ) 
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness 
of this watchtime measured by years I he awake 
elbowed upon the Atreidae's roof dogwise to mark 
the grand processionals of all the stars of night 
burdened with winter and again with heat for men, 
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air, 
these stais, upon their wane and when the rest arise. 

I wait, to read the meaning in that beacon light, 

a blaze of fire to carry out of Troy the rumor 

and outcry of its capture, to such end a lady's 

male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains 

Now as this bed stricken with night and drenched with dew 

I keep, nor ever with kind dreams for company. 

since fear m sleep's place stands forever at my head 

against strong closure of my eyes, or any resf 

I mince such medicine against sleep failed I sing, 

only to weep again the pity of this house 

no longer, as once, administered in the grand way 

Now let there be again redemption from distress, 

the flare burning from the blackness in good augury. 

(A light shows in the distance ) 
Oh hail, blaze of the darkness, harbinger of day's 
shining, and of processionals and dance and choirs 
of multitudes in Argos for this day of grace. 

I cry the news aloud to Agamemnon's queen, 

< 35 » 


that she may rise up from her bed of state with speed 

to raise the romor of gladness welcoming this beacon, 

and singing rise, if truly the citadel of Ihum 

has fallen, as the shming of this flare proclaims 

I also, I, will make my choral prelude, since 

my lord's dice cast aright are counted as my own, 

and mine the tripled sixes of this torchlit throw. 

May it only happen May my king come home, and I 

take up within this hand the hand I love. The rest 

I leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon 

my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak 

aloud and plam. I speak to those who understand, 

but if they fail, I have forgotten everythmg. 

(^Exit. The Chorus enters, speaking.) 
Ten years since the great contestants 
of Priam's right, 

Mcnelaus and Agamemnon, my lord, 

twin throned, twin sceptered, m twofold power 

of kings from God, the Atreidae, 

put forth from this shore 

the thousand ships of the Argives, 

the strength and the armies 

Their cry of war went shrill from the heart, 

as eagles stricken m agony 

for young perished, high from the nest 

eddy and circle 

to bend and sweep of the wings' stroke, 
lost far below 

the fledgelings, the nest, and the tendance. 
Yet someone hears in the air, a god, 
Apollo, Pan, or Zeus, the high 
thin wad of these sky-guests, and dnvcs 
late to its mark 

the Fury upon the transgressors. 
So drives Zieus the great guest god 

« 36 » 


the Atreidae against Alexander. 

for one woman's promiscuous sake 

the struggling masses, legs tired, 

knees grinding in dust, 

spears broken in the onset. 

Danaans and Trojans 

they have it alike It goes as it goes 

now. The end will be destiny. 

You cannot burn flesh or pour unguents, 

not innocent cool tears, 

that will soften the gods' stiff anger. 

But we; dishonored, old in our bones, 

cast off even then from the gathering horde, 

stay here, to prop up 

on staves the strength of a baby. 

Since the young vigor that urges 

inward to the heart 

is frail as age, no warcraft yet perfect, 

while beyond age, leaf 

withered, man goes three footed 

no stronger than a child is, 

a dream that falters in daylight. 

[Clytaemestra enters quietly. The Chorus continues to speak 
But you, lady, 

daughter of Tyndareus, Clytaemestra, our queen: 

What is there to be done? "What new thing have you heard? 

In persuasion of what 

report do you order such sacrifice? 

To all the gods of the city, 

the high and the deep spirits, 

to them of the sky and the market places, 

the altars blaze with oblations. 

The staggered flame goes sky high 

one place, then another, 

drugged by the simple soft 

« 37 » 


persuasion of sacred unguents, 

the deep stored oil of the kings 

Of these things what can be told 

openly, speak. 

Be healer to this perplexity 

that grows now into darkness of thought, 

while again sweet hope shining from the flames 

beats back the pitiless pondering 

of sorrow that eats my heart. 

I have mastery yet to chant the wonder at the wayside 
given to kmgs Still by God's grace there surges within me 
singing magic 

grovra to my life and power, 

how the wild bird portent 

hurled forth the Achaeans' 

twin-stemmed power single hearted, 

lords of the youth of Hellas, 

with spear and hand of strength 

to the land of Teucrus. 

Kings of burds to the kings of the ships, 

one black, one blazed with silver, 

clear seen by the royal house 

on the right, the spear hand, 

they hghted, watched by all 

tore a hare, ripe, bursting with young unborn yet, 

stayed from her last fleet running. 

Smg sorrow, sorrow, but good wm out in the end 

Then the grave seer of the host saw through to the hearts divided, 

knew the fighting sons of Atreus feeding on the hare 

with the host, their people. 

Seemg beyond, he spoke: 

"With time, this foray 

shall stalk the casde of Priam. 

Before then, under 

the walls. Fate shall spoil 

. 38 » 


m violence the rich herds of the people 

Only let no doom of the gods darken 

upon this huge iron forged to curb Troy — 

from inward Artemis the undefiled 

IS angered with pity 

at the flying hounds of her father 

eating the unborn young in the hare and the shivering mother. 

She IS sick at the eagles' feasting 

Sing sorrow, sorrow, but good win out in the end 

Lovely you are and kind 

to the tender young of ravening lions. 

For sucklings of all the savage 

beasts that lurk in the lonely places you have sympathy 

Grant meaning to these appearances 

good, yet not without evil. 

Healer Apollo, I pray you 

let her not with cross winds 

bmd the ships of the Danaans 

to time-long anchorage 

forcing a second sacrifice unholy, untasted, 

workmg bitterness in the blood 

and faith lost For the terror returns like sickness to lurk in the 

the secret anger remembers the child that shall be avenged " 
Such, with great good thmgs beside, rang out in the voice of 

these fatal signs from the birds by the way to the house of the 

wherewith in sympathy 

sing sorrow, sorrow: but good wm out m the end. 

Zeus: whatever he may be, if this name 

pleases him m invocation, 

thus I call upon him. 

I have pondered everythmg 

yet I cannot find a way, 

« 39 » 


only Zeus, to cast this dead weight of ignorance i6j 
finally from out my brain. 

He who m time long ago was great, 
throbbing with gigantic strength, 

shall be as if he never were, unspoken, 170 

He who followed him has found 

his master, and is gone. 

Cry aloud without fear the victory of Zeus, 

you will not have failed the truth: 175 

Zeus, who guided men to think, 
who has laid it down that wisdom 
comes alone through suffering. 
Still there drips m sleep against the heart 

grief of memory; agamst 1 80 

our pleasure we are temperate. 
From the gods who sit in grandeur 
grace comes somehow violent. 

On that day the elder king 
of the Achaean ships, no more 

strict against the prophet's word, 1*5 
turned with the crosswmds of fortune, 
when no ship sailed, no pail was full, 
and the Achaean people sulked 
fast against the shore at Aulis 

facing Chalcis, where the tides ebb and surge: 190 

and winds blew from the Strymon, bearmg 
sick idleness, ships tied fast, and hunger, 
distraction of the mind, carelessness 

for hull and cable; 195 
with time's length bent to double measure 
by delay crumbled the flower and pride 
of Argos. Then against the bitter wind 
the seer's voice clashed out 

another medicine 300 

c 4,0 » 


more hateful yet, and spoke of Artemis, so that the kings 
dashed their staves to the ground and could not hold their tears. 

The elder lord spoke aloud before them 205 

"My fate is angry if I disobey these, 

but angry if I slaughter 

this child, the beauty of my house, 

with maiden blood shed staining 

these father's hands beside the altar. 210 
What of these things goes now without disaster? 
How shall I fail my ships 
and lose my faith of battle? 

For them to urge such sacrifice of innocent blood 215 
angrily, for their wrath is great — it is right. May all be well yet." 

But when necessity's yoke was put upon him 

he changed, and from the heart the breath came bitter 

and sacrilegious, utterly infidel, 220 

to warp a will now to be stopped at nothing. 

The sickening in men's minds, tough, 

reckless in fresh cruelty brings daring He endured then 

to sacrifice his daughter 

to stay the strength of war waged for a woman, 22$ 
first offering for the ships' sake. 

Her supplications and her cries of father 
were nothing, nor the child's lamentation 

to kings passioned for battle. 230 
The father prayed, called to his men to lift her 
with strength of hand swept in her robes aloft 
and prone above the altar, as you might lift 
a goat for sacrifice, with guards 

against the hps' sweet edge, to check 23 5 

the curse cned on the house of Atreus 

by force of bit and speech drowned m strength. 

Pouring then to the ground her saffron mantle 

she struck the sacrificers with M° 
the eyes' arrows of pity. 


lovely as in a painted scene, and striving 

to speak — as many times 

at the kind festive table of her father 

she had sung, and m the clear voice of a stainless maiden 

with love had graced the song 

of worship when the third cup was poured. 

What happened next I saw not, neither speak it. 
The crafts of Calchas fail not of outcome. 
Justice so moves that those only learn 
who suffer; and the future 

you shall know when it has come; before then, forget it. 

It is grief too soon given. 

All will come clear in the next dawn's sunlight. 

Let good fortune follow these things as 

she who is here desires, 

our Apian land's smglehearted protectress. 

{The Chorus now turns toward Clytaemestra, and the leader 

speaks to her.) 

I have come m reverence, Clytaemestra, of your power. 

For when the man is gone and the throne void, his right 

falls to the prince's lady, and honor must be given. 

Is It some grace — or otherwise — that you have heard 

to make you sacrifice at messages of good hope? 

I should be glad to hear, but must not blame your silence. 


As it was said of old, may the dawn child be born 
to be an angel of blessing from the kmdly night. 
You shall know joy beyond all you ever hoped to hear. 
The men of Argos have taken Priam's citadel. 


What have you said? Your words escaped my unbelief. 

The Achaeans are in Troy. Is that not clear enough? 

« 4^ » 



This slow delight steals over me to bring forth tears. 27c 

Yes, for your eyes betray the loyal heart within. 

Yet how can I be certain? Is there some evidence? 

There is, there must be, unless a god has lied to me 

Is It dream visions, easy to believe, you credit' 

I accept nothmg from a brain that is dull with sleep 275 

The charm, then, of some rumor, that made rich your hope? 

Am I some young girl, that you find my thoughts so silly? 

How long, then, is it since the citadel was stormed' 

It is the night, the mother of this dawn I hailed. 

What kind of messenger could come in speed like this' 280 

Hephaestus, who cast forth the shmmg blaze from Ida. 

And beacon after beacon picking up the flare 

carried it here; Ida to the Hermaean horn 

of Lemnos, where it shone above the isle, and next 

the sheer rock face of Zeus on Athos caught it up; 285 

and plunging skyward to arch the shoulders of the sea 

the strength of the running flare in exultation, 

pme tunbers flammg mto gold, like the sunrise, 

« 43 » 


brought the bright message to Macistus' sentinel cliffs, 

who, never slow nor in the carelessness of sleep 

caught up, sent on his relay in the courier chain, 

and far across Euripus' streams the beacon flare 

carried to signal watchmen on Messapion. 

These took it again m turn, and heaping high a pile 

of silvery brush flamed it to throw the message on 

And the flare sickened never, but grown stronger yet 

oudeapt the river valley of Asopus like 

the very moon for shining, to Cithaeron's scaur 

to waken the next station of the flaming post. 

These watchers, not contemptuous of the far-thrown blaze, 

kindled another beacon vaster than commanded. 

The light leaned high above Gorgopis' staring marsh, 

and striking Aegyplanctus' mountam top, drove on 

yet one more relay, lest the flare die down m speed. 

Kindled once more with stmtless heaping force, they send 

the beard of flame to hugeness, passmg far beyond 

the promontory that gazes on the Saronic strait 

and flaming far, until it plunged at last to strike 

the steep rock of Arachnus near at hand, our watchtower. 

And thence there fell upon this house of Atreus' sons 

the flare whose fathers mount to the Idaean beacon. 

These are the changes on my torchlight messengers, 

one from another running out the laps assigned. 

The first and the last sprmters have the victory. 

By such proof and such symbol I announce to you 

my lord at Troy has sent his messengers to me. 


The gods, lady, shall have my prayers and thanks straightway. 
And yet to hear your story till all wonder fades 
would be my vnsh, could you but tell it once agam. 


The Achaeans have got Troy, upon this very day. 
I think the city echoes with a clash of cries. 

< 44 » 


Pour Vinegar and oil into the selfsame bowl, 

you could not say they mix in friendship, but fight on. 

Thus variant sound the voices of the conquerors 

and conquered, from the opposition of their fates 

Trojans are stooping now to gather in their arms 

their dead, husbands and brothers, children lean to clasp 

the aged who begot them, crying upon the death 

of those most dear, from hps that never will be free. 

The Achaeans have their midnight work after the fighting 

that sets them down to feed on all the city has, 

ravenous, headlong, by no rank and file assigned, 

but as each man has drawn his shaken lot by chance 

And in the Trojan houses that their spears have taken 

they settle now, free of the open sky, the frosts 

and dampness of the evenmg, without sentinels set 

they sleep the sleep of happiness the whole night through 

And if they reverence the gods who hold the city 

and all the holy temples of the captured land, 

they, the despoilers, might not be despoiled in turn. 

Let not their passion overwhelm them, let no lust 

seize on these men to violate what they must not 

The run to safety and home is yet to make, they must turn 

the pole, and run the backstretch of the double course 

Yet, though the host come home without offence to high 

gods, evert so the anger of these slaughtered men 

may never sleep Oh, let there be no fresh wrong done ! 

Such are the thoughts you hear from me, a woman merely 
Yet may the best vnn through, that none may fail to see. 
Of all good things to wish this is my dearest choice. 


My lady, no grave man could speak with better grace. 
I have hstened to the proofs of your tale, and I believe, 
and go to make my glad thanksgivings to the gods. 
This pleasure is not unworthy of the grief that gave it. 

« 45 » 


0 Zeus our lord and Night beloved, 
bestower of power and beauty, 

you slung above the bastions of Troy 

the binding net, that none, neither great 

nor young, might outleap 

the gigantic toils 

of enslavement and final disaster. 

1 gaze m awe on Zeus of the guests 

who wrung from Alexander such payment. 
He bent the bow with slow care, that neither 
the shaft might hurdle the stars, nor fall 
spent to the earth, short driven. 

They have the stroke of Zeus to tell of. 

This thing is clear and you may trace it. 

He acted as he had decreed. A man thought 

the gods deigned not to punish mortals 

who trampled down the dehcacy of things 

inviolable. That man was wicked. 

The curse on great daring 

shines clear; it wrings atonement 

from those high hearts that drive to evil, 

from houses blossoming to pride 

and peril. Let there be 

wealth without tears; enough for 

the wise man who will ask no further. 

There is not any armor 

in gold against perdition 

for him who spurns the high altar 

of Justice down to the darkness. 

Persuasion the persistent overwhelms him, 
she, strong daughter of designing Ruin. 
And every medicine is vain; the sin 
smolders not, but burns to evil beauty. 
As cheap bronze tortured 
at the touchstone relapses 

« 46 » 


to blackness and grime, so this man 
tested shows vam 

as a child that strives to catch the bird flying 

and wins shame that shall bring down his city. 

No god will hear such a man's entreaty, 

but whoso turns to these ways 

they strike him down in his wickedness. 

This was Pans he came 

to the house of the sons of Atreus, 

stole the woman away, and shamed 

the guest's right of the board shared. ^ ' / 

She left among her people the stir and clamor 

of shields and of spearheads, 

the ships to sail and the armor. 

She took to Ilium her dowry, death. 

She stepped forth lightly between the gates 

daring beyond all darmg And the prophets 

about the great house wept aloud and spoke: 

"Alas, alas for the house and for the champions, 

alas for the bed signed with their love together 

Here now is silence, scorned, unreproachfui 

The agony of his loss is clear before us 

Longing for her who kes beyond the sea 

he shall see a phantom queen in his household. 

Her images in their beauty 

are bitterness to her lord now 

where in the emptiness of eyes 

all passion has faded." 

Shining in dreams the sorrowful 
memories pass; they bring him 
vain delight only. 

It IS vain, to dream and to see splendors, 

and the image slipping from the arms' embrace 

escapes, not to return again, 

on wings drifting down the ways of sleep. 


Such have the sorrows been in the house by the hearthside; 
such have there been, and yet there are worse than these. 
In all Hellas, for those who swarmed to the host 
the heartbreaking misery 
shows in the house of each. 

Many are they who are touched at the heart by these thmgs. 
Those they sent forth they knew; 
now, in place of the young men 
urns and ashes are carried home 
to the houses of the fighters. 

The god of war, money changer of dead bodies, 

held the balance of his spear in the fighting, 

and from the corpse-fires at Ilium 

sent to their dearest the dust 

heavy and bitter with tears shed 

packing smooth the urns with 

ashes that once were men. 

They praise them through their tears, how this man 

knew well the craft of battle, how another 

went down splendid m the slaughter: 

and all for some strange woman. 

Thus they mutter in secrecy, 

and the slow anger creeps below their grief 

at Atreus' sons and their quarrels. 

There by the walls of Ihum 

the young men in their beauty keep 

graves deep in the ahen soil 

they hated and they conquered. 

The citizens speak: their voice is dull with hatred. 
The curse of the people must be paid for. 
There lurks for me in the hooded night 
terror of what may be told me. 
The gods fail not to mark 
those who have killed many. 
The black Furies stalking the man 

« 4^ ^ 


fortunate beyond all right 
wrench back again the set of his life 
and drop him to darkness There among 
the ciphers there is no more comfort 
in power And the vaunt of high glory 
IS bitterness; for God's thunderbolts 
crash on the towering mountains 
Let me attain no envied wealth, 
let me not plunder cities, 
neither be taken in turn, and face 
life in the power of another. 

[Various memhers of the Chorus, speaking severa. 
From the beacon's bright message 
the fleet rumor runs 
through the city If this be real 

who knows' Perhaps the gods have sent some lie to us. 

Who of us is so childish or so reft of wit 
that by the beacon's messages 
his heart flamed must despond again 
when the talc changes m the end*" 

It is like a woman indeed 

to take the rapture before the fact has shown for true 

They beheve too easily, are too quick to shift 
from groflnd to ground; and swift indeed 
the rumor voiced by a woman dies again. 

Now we shall understand these torches and their shining, 

the beacons, and the interchange of flame and flame. 

They may be real; yet bright and dreamwise ecstasy 

in light's appearance might have charmed our hearts awry. 

I see a herald coming from the beach, his brows 

shaded with sprigs of olive, and upon his feet 

the dust, dry sister of the mire, makes plain to me 

that he will find a voice, not merely kindle flame 

from mountam timber, and make signals from the smoke, 

« 49 » 


but tell us outright, whether to be happy, or — 
but I shrink back from naming the alternative. 

That which appeared was good; may yet more good be given. 500 

And any man who prays that different thmgs befall 
the city, may he reap the crime of his own heart. 

(The Herald enters, and speaks.) 

Soil of my fathers, Argive earth I tread upon, 

in dayhght of the tenth year I have come back to you. 

All my hopes broke but one, and this I have at last. 505 

I never could have dared to dream that I might die 

in Argos, and be buried in this beloved soil. 

Hail to the Argive land and to its sunhght, hail 

to its high sovereign, Zeus, and to the Pythian king. 

May you no longer shower your arrows on our heads. 510 

Beside Scamandrus you were grim; be satisfied 

and turn to savior now and healer of our hurts, 

my lord Apollo. Gods of the market place assembled, 

I greet you all, and my own patron deity 

Hermes, beloved herald, in whose right all heralds 515 
are sacred; and you heroes that sent forth the host, 
propitiously take back all that the spear has left. 
O great hall of the kings and house beloved, seats 
of sanctity; divinities that face the sun: 

if ever before, look now with kmd and glowing eyes 520 

to greet our king in state after so long a time. 

He comes, lord Agamemnon, bearing light in gloom 

to you, and to all that are assembled here. 

Salute him with good favor, as he well deserves, 

the man who has wrecked Ilium with the spade of Zeus 525 

vindictive, whereby all their plain has been laid waste. 

Gone are their altars, the sacred places of the gods 

are gone, and scattered all the seed within the ground. 

With such a yoke as this gripped to the neck of Troy 

he comes, the king, Atreus' elder son, a man 530 

« 50 » 


fortunate to be honored far above all men 
alive, not Pans nor the city tied to him 
can boast he did more than was done him in return 
Guilty of rape and theft, condemned, he lost the prize 
captured, and broke to sheer destruction all the house 
of his fathers, with the very ground whereon it stood. 
Twice over the sons of Priam have atoned their sins 

Hail and be glad, herald of the Achaean host 

I am happy, I no longer ask the gods for death 

Did passion for your country so strip bare your heart' 

So that the tears broke in my eyes, for happiness 

You were taken with that sickness, then, that brings delight. 

How? I cannot deal with such words until I understand. 

Struck with desire of those who loved as much again. 

You mean our country longed for us, as we for home' 

So that I sighed, out of the darkness of my heart 

Whence came this black thought to afBict the mmd with fear' 

Long since it was my silence kept disaster off 

But how' There were some you feared when the kings went 

So much that as. you said now, even death were grace. 



Well; the end has been good And in the length of time 
part of our fortune you could say held favorable, 
but part we cursed again And who, except the gods, 
can live time through forever without any pam? 

Were I to tell you of the hard work done, the nights 555 

exposed, the cramped sea-quarters, the foul beds — ^what part 

of day's disposal did we not cry out loud? 

Ashore, the horror stayed with us and grew. We lay 

against the ramparts of our enemies, and from 

the sky, and from the ground, the meadow dews came out 560 
to soak our clothes and fill our hair with lice. And if 
I were to tell of winter time, when all birds died, 
the snows of Ida past endurance she sent down, 
or summer heat, when in the lazy noon the sea 

fell level and asleep under a windless sky — 565 

but why live such grief over again? That time is gone 

for us, and gone for those who died. Never agam 

need they rise up, nor care again for anything. 

Why must a live man count the numbers of the slain, 

why grieve at fortune's wrath that fades to break once more' 570 

I call a long farewell to all our unhappmess. 

For us, survivors of the Argive armament, 

the pleasure wins, pain casts no weight in the opposite scale. 

And here, m this sun's shining, we can boast aloud, 

whose fame has gone with wings across the land and sea: 575 

"Upon a time the Argive host took Troy, and on 

the houses of the gods who hve in Hellas nailed 

the spoils, to be the glory of days long ago." 

And they who hear such things shall call this city blest 

and the leaders of the host; and high the grace of God 580 

shall be exalted, that did this. You have the story. 


I must give way; your story shows that I was wrong. 
Old men are always young enough to learn, with profit. 

« 52 » 


But Clytaemestra and her house must hear, above 
others, this news that makes luxurious my life. 

(Clytaemestra comes forward and speaks ) 

I raised my cry of joy, and it was long ago 

when the first beacon flare of message came by night 

to speak of capture and of Ihum's overthrow. 

But there was one who laughed at me, who said. "You irust 

in beacons so, and you beheve that Troy has fallen-' 

How like a woman, for the heart to lift so light." 

Men spoke like that, they thought I wandered m my wits, 

yet I made sacrifice, and in the womanish strain 

voice after voice caught up the cry along the city 

to echo m the temples of the gods and bless 

and still the fragrant flame that melts the sacrifice. 

Why should you tell me then the whole long tale at large 

when from my lord himself I shall hear all the story' 

But now, how best to speed my preparation to 

receive my honored lord come home again — what else 

IS hght more sweet for woman to behold than this, 

to spread the gates before her husband home from war 

and saved by God's hand' — take this message to the king: 

Come, and with speed, back to the city that longs for him, 

and may he find a wife withm his house as true 

as on the day he left her, watchdog of the house 

gentle to him alone, fierce to his enemies, 

and such a woman in all her ways as this, who has 

not broken the seal upon her in the length of days. 

With no man else have I known delight, nor any shame 

of evil speech, more than I know how to temper bronze 

(Clytaemestra goes to the hack of the stage.) 


A vaunt like this, so loaded as it is with truth. 
It well becomes a highborn lady to proclaim. 

« 53 =. 



Thus has she spoken to you, and well you understand, 615 
words that impress interpreters whose thought is clear. 
But teU me, herald; I would learn of Menelaus, 
that power beloved in this land. Has he survived 
also, and come with you back to his home again? 


I know no way to Ue and make my tale so fair 620 
that friends could reap joy of it for any length of time. 


Is there no means to speak us fair, and yet tell the truth? 
It will not hide, when truth and good are torn asunder. 


He is gone out of the sight of the Achaean host, 

vessel and man ahke. I speak no falsehood there. 625 

Was It when he had put out from Ilium in your sight, 
or did a storm that struck you both whirl him away? 


How hkc a master bowman you have hit the mark 
and in your speech cut a long sorrow to brief stature. 


But then the rumor in the host that sailed beside, 630 
was it that he had perished, or might yet be hvmg? 


No man knows. There is none could tell us that for sure 
except the Sun, from whom this earth has life and mcrease. 


How did this storm, by wrath of the divinities, 

strike on our multitude at sea? How did it end? 635 

It is not well to stain the blessmg of this day 

with speech "of evil weight. Such gods are honored apart. 

« 54 ' 


And when the messenger of a shaken host, sad faced, 
brings to his city news it prayed never to hear, 

this scores one wound upon the body of the people; 640 

and that from many houses many men are slain 

by the two-lashed whip dear to the War God's hand, this turns 

disaster double-bladed, bloodily made two 

The messenger so freighted with a charge of tears 

should make his song of triumph at the Furies' door. 645 

But, carrying the fair message of our hopes' salvation, 

come home to a glad city's hospitality, 

how shall I mix my gracious news with foul, and tell 

of the storm on the Achaeans by God's anger sent? 

For they, of old the deepest enemies, sea and fire, 650 

made a conspiracy and gave the oath of hand 

to blast in ruin our unhappy Argive army. 

At night the sea began to rise in waves of death. 

Ship against ship the Thracian stormwind shattered us, 

and gored and split, our vessels, swept m violence 65s 

of storm and whirlwind, beaten by the breaking rain, ^ 

drove on in darkness, spun by the wicked shepherd's hand. 

But when the sun came up again to light the dawn, 

we saw the Acgaean Sea blossoming with dead men, 

the men of Achaea, and the wreckage of their ships. 660 

For us, and for our ship, some god, no man, by guile 

or by entreaty's force prevailing, laid his hand 

upon the helm and brought us through with hull unscarred. 

Life-giving fortune deigned to take our ship in charge 

that neither riding in deep water she took the surf 665 

nor drove to shoal and break upon some rocky shore. 

But then, delivered from death at sea, in the pale day, 

incredulous of our own luck, we shepherded 

in our sad thoughts the fresh disaster of the fleet 

so pitifully torn and shaken by the storm. 670 

Now of these others, if there arc any left ahve 

they speak of us as men who perished, must they not? 

Even as we, who fear that they are gone. But may 

« 55 » 


it all come well m the ead. For Menelaus: be sure 

if any of them come back that he will be the first 

If he is still where some sun's gleam can track him down, 

alive and open-eyed, by blessed hand of God 

who willed that not yet should his seed be utterly gone, 

there is some hope that he will still come home again. 

You have heard all; and be sure, you have heard the truth. 

(The Herald goes 


Who is he that named you so 

fatally m every way? 

Could It be some mmd unseen 

in divination of your destiny 

shaping to the hps that name 

for the bride of spears and blood, 

Helen, which is death? Appropriately 

death of ships, death of men and cities 

from the bower's soft curtained 

and secluded luxury she sailed then, 

driven on the giant west wmd, 

and armored men in their thousands came, 

huntsmen down the oar blade's fading footprint 

to struggle m blood with those 

who by the banks of Simoeis 

beached their hulls where the leaves break. 

And on Ilium in truth 

in the hkeness of the name 

the sure purpose of the Wrath drove 

marriage with death for the guest board 

shamed, and Zeus kindly to strangers, 

the vengeance wrought on those men 

who graced in too loud voice the bride-song 

fallen to their lot to smg, 

the kmsmen and the brothers. 

And changing its song's measure 

« 56 » 


the ancient city of Pnam 710 
chants in high strain of lamentation, 
calling Pans him of the fatal marriage; 
for It endured its life's end 
m desolation and tears 

and the piteous blood of its people. 715 

Once a man fostered in his house 
a lion cub, from the mother's milk 
torn, craving the breast given. 

In the first steps of its young life 720 

mild, It played with children 

and dehghted the old. 

Caught in the arm's cradle 

they pampered it like a newborn child, 

shining eyed and broken to the hand 725 
to stay the stress of its hunger. 

But It grew with time, and the lion 
in the blood strain came out; it paid 
grace to those who had fostered it 

in blood and death for the sheep flocks, 730 

a grim feast forbidden. 

The house reeked with blood run 

nor could its people beat down the banc, 

the giant murderer's onslaught. 

This thing they raised m their house was blessed 73 5 

by God to be priest of destruction. 

And that which first came to the city of Ilium, 
call it a dream of calm 
and the wind dying, 

the loveliness and luxury of much gold, 740 

the melting shafts of the eyes' glances, 

the blossom that breaks the heart with longmg. 

But she turned in mid-step of her course to make 

bitter the consummation, 745 

« 57 » 


whirling on Priam's people 

to blight with her touch and nearness. 

Zeus hospitable sent her, 

a vengeance to make brides weep. 

It has been made long since and grown old among men, 750 

this saying: human wealth 

grown to fulness of stature 

breeds again nor dies without issue. 

From high good fortune in the blood 755 
blossoms the quenchless agony. 
Far from others I hold my own 
mind; only the act of evil 
breeds others to follow, 

young sms m its own likeness. 760 
Houses clear m their right are given 
children in all loveliness. 

But Crime aging is made 
in men's dark actions 

ripe with the young pride 765 

late or soon when the davra of destmy 

comes and birth is given 

to the spirit none may fight nor beat down, 

sinful Daring; and in those halls 

the black visaged Disasters stamped 770 
m the hkeness of their fathers. 

And Righteousness is a shining in 
the smoke of mean houses. 

Her blessing is on the just man. 775 
From high halls starred vnth gold by reeking hands 
she turns back 

with eyes that glance away to the simple in heart, 
spuming the strength of gold 

stamped false with flattery. 780 
And all things she steers to fulfilment. 

< 58 » 


(Agamemnon enters in a chariot, with. Cassandra beside 
him. The Chorus speaks to htm ) 
Behold, my king: sacker of Troy's citadel, 
own issue of Atreus. 

How shall I hail you' How give honor 785 
not crossing too high nor yet bending short 
of this time's graces' 

For many among men are they who set high 
the show of honor, yet break justice. 

If one be unhappy, all else are fain 79° 

to grieve with him: yet the teeth of sorrow 

come nowise near to the heart's edge 

And in joy likewise they show joy's semblance, 

and torture the face to the false smile 

Yet the good shepherd, who knows his flock, 795 

the eyes of men cannot he to him, 

that with water of feigned 

love seem to smile from the true heart 

But I: when you marshalled this armament 

for Helen's sake, I will not hide it, 800 

in ugly style you were written m my heart 

for steering aslant the mind's course 

to bring home by blood 

sacrifice and dead men that wild spirit. 

But now, m love drawn up from the deep heart, 805 
not skimmed at the edge, we hail you. 
You have won, your labor is made gladness. 
Ask all men- you will learn in time 
which of your citizens have been just 

in the city's sway, which were reckless. 810 

To Argos first, and to the gods within the land, 

I must give due greeting; they have worked with me to bring 

me home; they helped me in the vengeance I have wrought 

on Priam's city. Not from the hps of men the gods 

heard justice, but in one firm cast they laid their votes 815 

« 59 » 


■within the urn of blood that Ihum must die 

and all her people; while above the opposite vase 

the hand hovered and there was hope, but no vote fell. 

The stormclouds of their ruin live; the ash that dies 

upon them gushes still in smoke their pride of wealth. 820 

For all this we must thank the gods with giace of much 

high praise and memory, we who fenced within our toils 

of wrath the city; and, because one woman strayed, 

the beast of Argos broke them, the fierce young within 

the horse, the armored people who marked out their leap 825 

agamst the setting of the Pleiades A wild 

and bloody lion swarmed above the towers of Troy 

to glut Its hunger lappmg at the blood of kmgs 

This to the gods, a prelude strung to length of words. 

But, for the thought you spoke, I heard and I remember 830 

and stand behind you. For I say that it is true. 

In few men is it part of nature to respect 

a friend's prosperity without begrudging him, 

as envy's wicked poison settling to the heart 

piles up the pain m one sick with unhappmess, 835 

who, staggered under sufFermgs that are all his ovra, 

vdnces agam to the vision of a neighbor's bliss. 

And I can speak, for I have seen, I know it well, 

this mirror of companionship, this shadow's ghost, 

these men who seemed my friends in all sincerity. 840 

One man of them all, Odysseus, he who saded unwilhng, 

once yoked to me carried his harness, nor went slack. 

Dead though he be or hvmg, I can say it still. 

Now m the business of the city and the gods 

we must ordain full conclave of all atizens 845 
and take our counsel. We shall see what element 
is strong, and plan that it shall keep its virtue still. 
But that which must be healed — we must use medicine, 
or burn, or amputate, with kmd intention, take 

all means at hand that might beat down corruption's pain. 850 

« 60 » 


So to the King's house and the home about the hearth 

I take my way, with greetmg to the gods within 

who sent me forth, and who have brought me home once more. 

My prize was conquest; may it never fad again. 

[Clytaemestra comes forward arid speaks.) 

Grave gentlemen of Argohs assembled here, 855 
I take no shame to speak aloud before you all 
the love I bear my husband In the lapse of time 
modesty fades, it is human. 

What I tell you now 
I learned not from another, this is my own sad life 
all the long years this man was gone at Ilium. 860 
It is evil and a thing of terror when a wife 
sits in the house forlorn with no man by, and hears 
rumors that hke a fever die to break again, 
and men come m with news of fear, and on their heels 
another messenger, with worse news to cry aloud 865 
here in this house Had Agamemnon taken all 
the wounds the tale whereof was carried home to me, 
he had been cut full of gashes like a fishing net. 
If he had died each time that rumor told his death, 
he must have been some triple-bodied Geryon 870 
back from the dead with threefold cloak of earth upon 
his body, gnd killed once for every shape assumed. 
Because such tales broke out forever on my rest, 

many a time they cut me down and freed my throat 875 
from the noose overslung where I had caught it fast. 
And therefore is your son, m whom my love and yours 
are sealed and pledged, not here to stand with us today, 
Orestes. It were right; yet do not be amazed. 

Strophius of Phocis, comrade m arms and faithful friend 880 

to you, is keepmg him. He spoke to me of peril 

on two counts; of your danger under Ihum, 

and here, of revolution and the clamorous people 

who might cast down the council — since it lies in men's 

I 61 » 


nature to trample on the fighter akeady down. 885 
Such my excuse to you, and without subterfuge. 

For me. the running springs that were my tears have dried 

utterly up, nor left one drop withm. I keep 

the pain upon my eyes where late at night I wept 

over the beacons long ago set for your sake, 890 

untended left forever. In the midst of dreams 

the whisper that a gnat's thm wings could winnow broke 

my sleep apart. I thought I saw you suffer wounds 

more than the time that slept with me could ever hold. 

Now all my suffering is past, with griefless heart 895 
I hail this man, the watchdog of the fold and hall; 
the stay that keeps the ship alive; the post to grip 
groundward the towering roof; a father's single child; 
land seen by sailors after all their hope was gone; 

splendor of daybreak shming from the night of storm; 900 
the runnmg sprmg d parched wayfarer strays upon. 
Oh, It IS sweet to escape from all necessity! 

Such is my greeting to him, that he well deserves. 
Let none bear makce; for the harm that went before 
I took, and it was great. 

Now, my beloved one, 905 
step from your chariot; yet let not your foot, my lord, 
sacker of Ihum, touch the earth. My maidens there! 
Why this delay? Your task has been appointed you, 
to strew the ground before his feet with tapestries. 
Let there sprmg up into the house he never hoped 910 
to see, where Justice leads him m, a crimson path. 

In all thmgs else, my heart's unsleeping care shall act 
with the gods' aid to set aright what fate ordained. 

(Clytaemestra's handmaidens spread a bright carpet 
between the chariot and the door.) 


Daughter of Leda, you who kept my house for me, 

there is one way your welcome matched my absence well. 915 

« 62 » 


You Strained it to great length. Yet properly to praise 

me thus belongs by right to other hps, not yours. 

And all this — do not try in woman's ways to make 

me dehcate, nor, as if I were some Asiatic 

bow down to earth and with wide mouth cry out to me, 

nor cross my path with jealousy by strewing the ground 

With robes Such state becomes the gods, and none beside. 

I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon 

these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path. 

I tell you, as a man, not god, to reverence me. 

Discordant is the murmur at such treading down 

of lovely things; while God's most lordly gift to man 

IS decency of mind. Call that man only blest 

who has m sweet tranquillity brought his life to close. 

If I could only act as such, my hope is good 


Yet tell me this one thing, and do not cross my will. 

My will IS mine. I shall not make it soft for you 

It was m fear surely that you vowed this course to God. 

No man Ifts spoken knowing better what he said. 

If Priam had won as you have, what would he have done? 

I well believe he might have walked on tapestries. 


Be not ashamed before the bitterness of men. 


The people murmur, and their voice is great in strength. 

« 63 » 



Yet he who goes unenvied shall not be admired. 


Surely this lust for conflict is not womanlike? 


Yet for the mighty even to give way is grace. 


Does such a victory as this mean so much to you? 

Oh yield! The power is yours. Give way of your free will. 

Since you must have it — here, let someone with all speed 
take off these sandals, slaves for my feet to tread upon. 
And as I crush these garments stamed from the rich sea 
let no god's eyes of hatred strike me from afar. 
Great the extravagance, and great the shame I feel 
to spoil such treasure and such silver's worth of webs. 

So much for all this. Take this stranger girl within 

now, and be kind. The conqueror who uses softly 

his power, is watched from far in the kind eyes of God, 

and this slave's yoke is one no man will wear from choice 

Gift of the host to me, and flower exquisite 

from all my many treasures, she attends me here. 

Now smce my will was bent to Usten to you in this 
my feet crush purple as I pass withm the hall 


The sea is there, and who shall dram its yield? It breeds 

precious as silver, ever of itself renewed, 

the purple ooze wherein our garments shall be dipped. 

And by God's grace this house keeps full sufficiency 

of all. Poverty is a thing beyond its thought. 

I could have vowed to trample many splendors dovra 

« 64 » 


had such decree been ordained from the oracles 

those days when all my study was to bring home your life. 965 

For when the root lives yet the leaves will come again 

to fence the house with shade against the Dog Star's heat, 

and now you have come home to keep your hearth and house 

you bring with you the symbol of our winter's warmth; 

but when Zeus ripens the green clusters into wine 970 

there shall be coolness m the house upon those days 

because the master ranges his own halls once more 

Zeus, Zeus accomplisher, accomplish these my prayers 
Let your mmd bring these thmgs to pass It is your will 

[Agamemnon and Clytaemestra enter the house Cassandra 
remains in the chariot The Chorus speaks ) 
Why must this persistent fear 975 
beat Its wmgs so ceaselessly 
and so close against my mantic heart' 
Why this strain unwanted, unrepaid, thus prophetic' 
Nor can valor of good hope 980 
seated near the chambered depth 
of the spirit cast it out 
as dreams of dark fancy, and yet time 
has buried in the mounding sand 

the sea cables since that day 985 

when against Ilium 

the army and the ships put to sea 

Yet I have seen with these eyes 
Agamemnon home again. 

Still the spirit sings, drawing deep 990 

from withm this unlyric threnody of the Fury. 

Hope is gone utterly, 

the sweet strength is far away 

Surely this is not fantasy 995 
Surely it is real, this whirl of drifts 
that spin the stricken heart 
Still I pray; may all this 

. 65 » 


expectation fade as vanity 

mto unfulfilment, and not be. looo 

Yet It IS true: the high strength of men 
knows no content with hmitation Sickness 
chambered beside it beats at the wall between. 

Man's fate that sets a true 1005 

course yet may strike upon 

the blind and sudden reefs of disaster. 

But if before such time, fear 

throw overboard some precious thing 

of the cargo, with deliberate cast, loio 

not all the house, laboring 

with weight of rum, shall go down, 

nor sink the hull deep within the sea. 

And great and affluent the gift of Zeus 

in yield of ploughed acres year on year 1015 
makes void again sick starvation. 

But when the black and mortal blood of man 

has fallen to the ground before his feet, who then 1020 
can smg spells to call it back again' 
Did Zeus not warn us once 
when he struck to impotence 

that one who could in truth charm back the dead men? 

Had the gods not so ordained 1025 

that fate should stand against fate 

to check any man's excess, 

my heart now would have outrun speech 

to break forth the water of its grief 

But this is so; I murmur deep in darkness 1030 
sore at heart; my hope is gone now 
ever again to unwind some crucial good 
from the flames about my heart 

[Clytaemstra comes out from the house again 
and speaks to Cassandra.) 
Cassandra, you may go within the house as well, 1035 
since Zeus in no unkindness has ordained that you 

« 66 » 


must share our lustral water, stand with the great throng 

of slaves that flock to the altar of our household god 

Step from this chariot, then, and do not be so proud 

And think — they say that long ago Alcmena's son 1040 

was sold m bondage and endured the bread of slaves 

But if constraint of fact forces you to such fate, 

be glad indeed for masters ancient in their wealth 

They who have reaped success beyond their dreams of hope 

are savage above need and standard toward their slaves. 1045 

From us you shall have all you have the right to ask. 


What she has spoken is for you, and clear enough. 
Fenced in these fatal nets wherein you find yourself 
you should obey her if you can, perhaps you can not 


Unless she uses speech incomprehensible, 1050 
barbarian, wild as the swallow's song, I speak 
within her understanding, and she must obey. 


Go with her What she bids is best in circumstance 
that rings you now. Obey, and leave this carriage seat. 


I have no leisure to stand outside the house and waste 1055 

time on tSis woman At the central altarstone 

the flocks are standing, ready for the sacrifice 

we make to this glad day we never hoped to see. 

You if you are obeying my commands at all, be quick. 

But if m Ignorance you fail to comprehend, 1060 

speak not, but make with your barbarian hand some sign. 


I think this stranger girl needs some interpreter 
who understands. She is like some captive animal. 


No, she is m the passion of her own wild thoughts. 

Leavmg her captured city she has come to us 1065 

a 67 » 


untrained to take the curb, and will not understand 
until her rage and strength have foamed away in blood. 
I shall throw down no more commands for her contempt 

(Clytaemestra goes back into the house ) 


I, though, shall not be angry, for I pity her. 

Come down, poor creature, leave the empty car. Give way 

to compulsion and take up the yoke that shall be yours 

(Cassandra descends from the chariot and cries out loud.) 
Oh shame upon the earth' 
Apollo, Apollo! 


You cry on Loxias in agony' He is not 
of those immortals the unhappy supplicate. 


Oh shame upon the earth ! 
Apollo, ApoEo! 


Now once again in bitter voice she calls upon 
this god, who has not part in any lamentation. 


Apollo, Apollo! 

Lord of the ways, my rum. 

You have undone me once again, and utterly. 


I think she will be prophetic of her own disaster. 
Even in the slave's heart the gift divine kves on. 


Apollo, Apollo! 

Lord of the ways, my ruin. 

Where have you led me now at last? What house is this' 

« 68 > 



The house of the Atreidae. If you understand 

not that, I can tell you, and so much at least is true. 


No, but a house that God hates, guilty withm 1090 

of kindred blood shed, torture of its own, 

the shambles for men's butchery, the dripping floor. 


The stranger is keen scented like some hound upon 
the trail of blood that leads her to discovered death. 


Behold there the witnesses to my faith. 1095 
The small children wail for their own death 
and the flesh roasted that their father fed upon. 


We had been told before of this prophetic fame 
of yours: we want no prophets in this place at all. 


Ah, for shame, what can she purpose now' iioo 

What IS this new and huge 

stroke of atrocity she plans within the house 

to beat down the beloved beyond hope of healing' 

Rescue isrfar away. 


I can make nothing of these prophecies. The rest 1105 
I understood, the city is full of the sound of them 


So cruel then, that you can do this thing? 
The husband of your own bed 

to bathe bright with water — how shall I speak the end? 

This thing shall be done with speed. The hand gropes now, and 

the other 1110 
hand follows in turn, 

« 69 » 



No, I am lost. After the darkness of her speech 
I go bewildered m a mist of prophecies. 


No, no, see there! What isjthat thing that shows' 

Is it some net of death? 1115 

Or is the trap the woman there, the murderess? 

Let now the slakeless fury in the race 

rear up to howl aloud over this monstrous death. 


Upon what demon in the house do you call, to raise 

the cry of triumph? All your speech makes dark my hope. 1120 

And to the heart below trickles the pale drop 

as in the hour of death 

timed to our sunset and the mortal radiance. 

Ruin IS near, and swift. 


See there, see there! Keep from his mate the bull. 1125 
Caught m the folded web's 

entanglement she pinions him and with the black horn 

strikes. And he crumples in the watered bath. 

Guile, I tell you, and death there m the caldron wrought. 


I am not proud in skill to guess at prophecies, 1130 

yet even I can see the evil in this thing. 

From divination what good ever has come to men? 

Art, and multiplication of words 

drifting through tangled evil bring 

terror to them that hear. 113 5 


Alas, alas for the wretchedness of my ill-starred life. 
This pain flooding the song of sorrow is mine alone. 
Why have you brought me here in all unhappiness? 
Why, why? Except to die with him? What else could be? 

« 70 » 



You arc possessed of God, mazed at heart 1140 

to sing your own death 

song, the wild lyric as 

in clamor for Itys, Itys over and over again 

her long life of tears weeping forever grieves 

the brown nightingale. 1145 

Oh for the nightingale's pure song and a fate lite hers. 
With fashion of beating wmgs the gods clothed her about 
and a sweet life gave her and without lamentation. 
But mme is the sheer edge of the tearing iron. 


Whence come, beat upon beat, driven of God, iijo 
vam passions of tears? 

Whence your cries, terrified, clashing m horror, 
m wrought melody and the singing speech' 
Whence take you the marks to this path of prophecy 
and speech of terror? 


Oh marriage of Paris, death to the men beloved! 
Alas, Scamandras, water my fathers drank. 
There was a time I too at your springs 
drank and grew strong. Ah me, 

for now Beside the deadly rivers, Cocytus 1160 
and Acheron, I must cry out my prophecies. 


What is this word, too clear, you have uttered now? 
A child could understand. 

And deep within goes the stroke of the dripping fang 

as mortal pam at the trebled song of your agony 11 65 

shivers the heart to hear. 


O sorrow, sorrow of my city dragged to uttermost death. 
O sacrifices my father made at the wall. 

« 71 » 


Flocks of the pastured sheep slaughtered there. 

And no use at all nyo 

to save our city from its pain inflicted now 

And I too, with brain ablaze in fever, shall go down. 


This follows the run of your song. 
Is It, in cruel force of weight, 

some divinity kneeling upon you brings H7j 
the death song of your passionate suffering' 
I can not see the end. 


No longer shall my prophecies hke some young girl 

new-married glance from under veils, but bright and strong 

as winds blow into morning and the sun's uprise iiSo 

shall wax along the swell like some great wave, to burst 

at last upon the shining of this agony. 

Now I will tell you plainly and from no cryptic speech; 

bear mc then witness, runnmg at my heels upon 

the scent of these old brutal things done long ago. 1185 

There is a choir that sings as one, that shall not again 

leave this house ever, the song thereof breaks harsh with menace. 

And drugged to double fury on the wine of men's 

blood shed, there lurks forever here a drunken rout 

of ingrown vengeful spirits never to be cast forth. 1190 

Hanging above the hall they chant their song of hate 

and the old sin; and taking up the strain in turn 

spit curses on that man who spoiled his brother's bed. 

Did I go wide, or hit, like a real archer? Am I 

some swindling seer who hawks his kes from door to door? 1 195 

Upon your oath, bear witness that I know by heart 
the legend of ancient wickedness within this house. 


And how could an oath, though cast in rigid honesty, 
do any good? And stiU we stand amazed at you. 

« 73 » 


reared in an alien city far beyond the sea, 

how can you strike, as if you had been there, the truth. 


Apollo was the seer who set me to this work. 

Struck with some passion for you, and himself a god' 

There was a time I blushed to speak about these things. 

True; they who prosper take on airs of vanity. 

Yes, then, he wrestled with me, and he breathed delight. 

Did you come to the getting of children then, as people do? 

I promised that to Loxias, but I broke my word. 

Were you already ecstatic in the skills of God? 

Yes; even then I read my city's destinies. 

So Loxias' wrath did you no harm? How could that be? 

For this my trespass, none beheved me ever again. 

But we do; all that you foretell seems true to us 


But this is evil, see ' 

Now once again the pain of grim, true prophecy 
shivers my whirlmg brain in a storm of things foreseen. 

« 73 » 


Look there, see what is hovering above the house, 

so small and young, imaged as in the shadow of dreams, 

like children almost, killed by those most dear to them, 

and their hands filled with their own flesh, as food to eat 1220 

I see them holding out the inward parts, the vitals, 

oh pitiful, that meat their father tasted of. . . . 

I tell you. There is one that plots vengeance for this, 

the strengthless lion rolling in his master's bed, 

who keeps, ah me, the house against his lord's return, 1225 

my lord too, now that I wear the slave's yoke on my neck 

King of the ships, who tore up Ilium by the roots, 

what does he know of this accursed bitch, who licks 

his hand, who fawns on him with lifted ears, who like 

a secret death shall strike the coward's stroke, nor fail? 1230 

No, this IS daring when the female shall strike down 

the male What can I call her and be right' What beast 

of loathing' Viper double-fanged, or Scylla witch 

holed m the rocks and bane of men that range the sea; 

smoldering mother of death to smoke relentless hate 1235 

on those most dear. How she stood up and howled aloud 

and unashamed, as at the breaking pomt of battle, 

in feigned gladness for his salvation from the sea ! 

What does it matter now if men believe or no' 

What IS to come will come And soon you too will stand 1240 
beside, to murmur in pity that my words were true 


Thyestes' feast upon the flesh of his own children 
I understand m terror at the thought, and fear 
is on me hearing truth and no tale fabricated. 

The rest. I heard it, but wander still far from the course. 1245 

I tell you, you shall look on Agamemnon dead. 

Peace, peace, poor woman; put those bitter lips to sleep. 

^ 74 » 



Useless; there is no god of healing in this story. 

Not if It must be; may it somehow fail to come. 

Prayers, yes; they do not pray, they plan to strike, and kill 1250 

What man is it who moves this beastly thmg to be? 

What man? You did mistake my divination then 

It may be; I could not follow through the schemer's plan 

Yet I know Greek; I think I know it far too well 

And Pythian oracles are Greek, yet hard to read. 1255 

Oh, flame and pain that sweeps me once again' My lord, 

Apollo, King of Light, the pam, aye me, the pain ! 

This is the woman-lioness, who goes to bed 

with the wolf, when her proud lion ranges far away, 

and she will cut me down; as a wife mixing drugs 1260 

she wills to shred the virtue of my punishment 

mto her bowl of wrath as she makes sharp the blade 

against her man, death that he brought a mistress home. 

Why do I wear these mockeries upon my body, 

this stafFof prophecy, these flowers at my throat? 1265 

At least I will spoil you before I die. Out, down, 

break, damn you ! This for all that you have done to me. 

Make someone else, not me, luxurious in disaster. . 

Lo now, this IS Apollo who has stripped me here 

of my prophetic robes. He watched me all the time 1270 

« 75 » 


wearing this glory, mocked of all, my dearest ones 
who hated me with all their hearts, so vain, so wrong; 
called like some gypsy wandering from door to door 
beggar, corrupt, half-starved, and I endured it all 
And now the seer has done with me, his prophetess, 
and led me into such a place as this, to die. 
Lost are my father's altars, but the block is there 
to reek with sacrificial blood, my own. We two 
must die, yet die not vengeless by the gods For there 
shall come one to avenge us also, born to slay 
his mother, and to wreak death for his father's blood. 
Outlaw and wanderer, driven far from his own land, 
he will come back to cope these stones of inward hate 
For this IS a strong oath and sworn by the high gods, 
that he shall cast men headlong for his father felled. 
Why am I then so pitiful? Why must I weep-" 
Since once I saw the citadel of Ilium 
die as It died, and those who broke the city, doomed 
by the gods, fare as they have fared accordingly, 
I will go through with it I too will take my fate. 
I call as on the gates of death upon these gates 
to pray only for this thing, that the stroke be true, 
and that with no convulsion, with a rush of blood 
in painless death, I may close up these eyes, and rest. 


O woman much enduring and so greatly wise, 
you have said much. But if this thmg you know be true 
this death that comes upon you, how can you, serene, 
walk to the altar like a driven ox of God? 


Friends, there is no escape for any longer time. 

Yet longest left in time is to be honored still. 

The day is here and now; I can not win by flight. 

« 76 » 



Woman, be sure your heart is brave; you can take much. 

None but the unhappy people ever hear such praise. 

Yet there is a grace on mortals who so nobly die. 

Alas for you, father, and for your lordly sons. 


What now? What terror whirls you backward from the door? 

Foul, foul! 


What foulness then, unless some horror in the mmd? 

That room within reeks with blood like a slaughter house. 

What then? Only these victims butchered at the hearth. 

There is a breath about it like an open grave. 

This is no Syrian pride of frankincense you mean. 

So. I am going in, and mourning as I go 

my death and Agamemnon's. Let my hfe be done. 

Ah friends, 

truly this is no wild bird fluttering at a bush, 

nor vain my speech. Bear vntness to me when I die, 

when falls for me, a woman slam, another woman, 

« 77 » 


and when a man dies for this wickedly mated man 
Here in ray death I claira this stranger's grace of you. 


Poor wretch, I pity you the fate you see so clear. 

Yet once more will I speak, and not this time my own 
death's threnody I call upon the Sun in prayer 
against that ultimate shinmg when the avengers strike 
these monsters down in blood, that they avenge as well 
one simple slave who died, a small thing, lightly killed 

Alas, poor men, their destiny. When all goes well 
a shadow will overthrow it If it be unkind 
one stroke of a wet sponge wipes all the picture out; 
and that is far the most unhappy thing of all. 

{Cassandra goes slowly into the house 


High fortune is a thing slakeless 
for mortals There is no man who shall point 
his finger to drive it back from the door 
and speak the words: "Come no longer." 
Now to this man the blessed ones have given 
Priam's city to be captured 
and return m the gods' honor 
Must he give blood for generations gone, 
die for those slam and in death pile up 
more death to come for the blood shed, 
what mortal else who hears shall claim 
he was born clear of the dark angel? 

{Agamemnon, inside the house 
Ah, I am struck a deadly blow and deep withm' 

Silence: who cried out that he was stabbed to death within 
the house? 

« 78 , 



Ah me, again, they struck again. I am wounded twice. 1345 

How the kmg cried out aloud to us ! I behcve the thing is done. 
Come, let us put our heads together, try to find some safe way 

(The members of the Chorus go about distractedly, 
each one speaking in turn ) 

Listen, let me tell you what I think is best to do. 
Let the herald call all citizens to rally here. 

No, better to burst m upon them now, at once, 7350 
and take them with the blood still running from their blades. 

I am with this man and I cast my vote to him. 
Act now. This is the perilous and instant time. 

Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have taken, 

they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city. 1355 

Yes, for we waste time, while they trample to the ground 
dehberation's honor, and their hands sleep not. 

I can not tell which counsel of yours to call my ovm. 
It is the man of action who can plan as well. 

I feel as he does, nor can I see how by words 1360 
we shall set the dead man back upon his feet agam. 

Do you mean, to drag our lives out long, that we must yield 
to the house shamed, and leadership of such as these? 

No, we can never endure that; better to be killed 

Death is a softer thmg by far than tyranny. 136$ 

Shall we, by no more proof than that he cried m pam, 
be sure, as by divmation, that our lord is dead? 

Yes, we should know what is true before we break our rage. 
Here is sheer guessmg and far diiFerent from sure knowledge. 

« 79 » 


From all sides the voices multiply to make me choose 1370 
this course; to learn first how it stands with Agamemnon. 

{The doors of the palace open, disclosing the bodies of 
Agamemnon and Cassandra, with Clytaemestra 
standing over them ) 


Much have I said before to serve necessity, 

but I will take no shame now to unsay it all. 

How else could I, arming hate against hateful men 

disguised m seeming tenderness, fence high the nets 1375 

of ruin beyond overleapmg'' Thus to me 

the conflict bom of ancient bitterness is not 

a thing new thought upon, but pondered deep m time. 

I stand now where I struck him down. The thmg is done. 

Thus have I wrought, and I will not deny it now. 1380 

That he might not escape nor beat aside his death, 

as fishermen cast their huge circlmg nets, I spread 

deadly abundance of rich robes, and caught him fast. 

I struck him twice. In two great cries of agony 

he buckled at the knees and fell. When he was down 1385 
I struck him the third blow, in thanks and reverence 
to Zeus the lord of dead men underneath the ground. 
Thus he went down, and the life struggled out of him; 
and as he died he spattered me with the dark red 

and violent driven ram of bitter savored blood 1390 
to make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers 
of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds. 

These being the facts, elders of Argos assembled here, 

be glad, if it be your pleasure; but for me, I glory. 

Were it religion to pour wme above the slain, 1395 

this man deserved, more than deserved, such sacrament. 

He filled our cup with evil things unspeakable 

and now himself come home has drunk it to the dregs. 


We stand here sturmed. How can you speak this way, with mouth 

so arrogant, to vaunt above your fallen lord? 1400 

< 80 » 



You try me out as if I were a woman and vain; 
but my heart is not fluttered as I speak before you. 
You know it. You can praise or blame me as you wish; 
it is all one to me. That man is Agamemnon, 

my husband; he is dead, the work of this right hand 1405 
that struck in strength of righteousness And that is that. 


Woman, what evil thmg planted upon the earth 

or dragged from the running salt sea could you have tasted now 

to wear such brutahty and walk in the people's hate? 

You have cast away, you have cut away. You shall go homeless 

now, 1410 
crushed with men's bitterness. 


Now It is I you doom to be cast out from my city 

with men's hate heaped and curses roaring in my ears. 

Yet look upon this dead man, you would not cross him once 

when with no thought more than as if a beast had died, 141 5 

when his ranged pastures swarmed with the deep fleece of flocks, 

he slaughtered like a victim his own child, my pam 

grown mto love, to charm away the wmds of Thrace. 

Were you not bound to hunt him then clear of this soil 

for the guilt stamed upon him? Yet you hear what I 1420 

have done, and lo, you are a stem judge. But I say to you: 

go on and threaten me, but know that I am ready, 

if fairly you can beat me down beneath your hand, 

for you to rule; but if the god grant otherwise, 

you shall be taught — too late, for sure — to keep your place. 1425 

Great your design, your speech is a clamor of pnde. 
Swung to the red act drives the fury within your brain 
signed clear m the splash of blood over your eyes. 
Yet to come is stroke given for stroke 

vengeless, forlorn of friends. 1430 

a 81 » 



Now hear you this, the right behind my sacrament: 

By my child's Justice driven to fulfilment, by 

her Wrath and Fury, to whom I sacrificed this man, 

the hope that walks my chambers is not traced with fear 

while yet Aegisthus makes the fire shme on iny hearth, 1435 

my good friend, now as always, who shall be for us 

the shield of our defiance, no weak thing, while he, 

this other, is fallen, stained with this woman you behold, 

plaything of all the golden girls at Ilium; 

and here lies she, the captive of his spear, who saw 1440 

wonders, who shared his bed, the wise in revelations 

and loving mistress, who yet knew the feel as well 

of the men's rowing benches Their reward is not 

unworthy He lies theie, and she who swanlike cried 

aloud her lyric mortal lamentation out 1445 

is laid against his fond heart, and to me has given 

a delicate excitement to my bed's delight. 


O that m speed, without pain 
and the slow bed of sickness 

death could come to us now, death that forever 14^0 

carries sleep without ending, now that our lord is down, 

our shield, kindest of men, 

who for a woman's grace suffered so much, 

struck down at last by a woman. 

Alas, Helen, wild heart 1455 
for the multitudes, for the thousand lives 
you killed under Troy's shadow, 
you alone, to shme in man's memory 

as blood flower never to be washed out Surely a demon then 1460 
of death walked in the house, men's agony. 


No, be not so heavy, nor yet draw down 
in prayer death's ending, 

« 82 * 


neither turn all wrath against Helen 
for men dead, that she alone killed 
all those Danaan hves, to work 
the grief that is past all healing. 


Divinity that kneel on this house and the two 

strains of the blood of Tantalus, 

in the hands and hearts of women you steer 

the strength tearing my heart. 

Standing above the corpse, obscene 

as some carrion crow she sings 

the crippled song and is proud. 


Thus have you set the speech of your lips 
straight, calling by name 
the spirit thrice glutted that lives in this race 
From him deep m the nerve is given 
the love and the blood drunk, that before 
the old wound dries, it bleeds again 


Surely it is a huge 

and heavy spirit bending the house you cry; 
alas, the bitter glory 

of a doom that shall never be done with; 
and all through Zeus, Zeus, 
first cause, prime mover 

For what thing without Zeus is done among mortal; 
What here is without God's blessing' 

O king, my kmg 

how shall I weep for you' 

What can I say out of my heart of pity? 

Caught in this spider's web you he. 

Your life gasped out in indecent death, 

struck prone to this shameful bed 

« 83 » 


by your lady's hand of treachery 
and the stroke twin edged of the iron 


Can you claim I have done this? 

Speak of me never 

more as the wife of Agamemnon 

In the shadow of this corpse's queen 

the old stark avenger 

of Atreus for his revel of hate 

struck down this man, 

last blood for the slaughtered children 


What man shall testify 
your hands are clean of this murder' 
How? How' Yet from his father's blood 
might swarm some fiend to guide you 
The black rum that shoulders 
through the streaming blood of brothers 
strides at last where he shall win requital 
for the children who were eaten 

O king, my king 

how shall I weep for you' 

What can I say out of my heart of pity' 

Caught in this spider's web you lie, 

your life gasped out in indecent death, 

struck prone to this shameful bed 

by your lady's hand of treachery 

and the stroke twin edged of the iron. 


No shame, I think, in the death given 
this man And did he not 
first of all in this house wreak death 
by treachery? 

The flower of this man's love and mine, 

< 84 > 


Iphigeneia of the tears 

he dealt with even as he has suffered. 

Let his speech in death's house be not loud. 

With the sword he struck, 

with the sword he paid for his own act. 


My thoughts are swept away and I go bewildered. 1530 

Where shall I turn the brain's 

acnvity in speed when the house is falling? 

There is fear in the beat of the blood ram breaking 

wall and tower. The drops come thicker. 

Still fate grinds on yet more stones the blade 1535 
for more acts of terror. 

Earth, my earth, why did you not fold me under 
before ever I saw this man he dead 

fenced by the tub in silver? 1540 
Who shall bury him? Who shall mourn him' 
Shall you dare this who have killed 
your lord' Make lamentation, 

render the graceless grace to his soul 1545 
for huge things done m wickedness? 
Who over this great man's grave shall lay 
the blessing of tears 

worked sci>erly from a true heart? 1550 


Not for you to speak of such tendance. 

Through us he fell, 

by us he died; we shall bury. 

There will be no tears m this house for him. 

It must be Iphigeneia i555 
his child, who else, 

shall greet her father by the whirhng stream 

and the ferry of tears 

to close him m her arms and kiss him. 

. 85 » 



Here is anger for anger Between them 1560 

who shall judge lightly' 

The spoiler is robbed; he killed, he has paid. 

The truth stands ever beside God's throne 

eternal he who has wrought shall pay, that is law 

Then who shall tear the curse from their blood' 1565 

The seed is stiffened to rum. 


You see truth in the future 

at last. Yet I wish 

to seal my oath with the Spirit 

in the house I will endure all things as they stand 1570 

now, hard though it be Hereafter 

let him go forth to make bleed with death 

and guilt the houses of others. 

I will take some small 

measure of our riches, and be content 

that I swept from these halls 1575 
the murder, the sin, and the fury. 

[Aegisthus enters, followed at a little distance hy his 

armed bodyguard.) 

Aegis thus 

0 splendor and exaltation of this day of doom ' 

Now I can say once more that the high gods look down 
on mortal crimes to vindicate the right at last, 

now that I see this man — sweet sight — before me here 1580 

sprawled in the tangling nets of fury, to atone 

the calculated evil of his father's hand. 

For Atreus, this man's father, King of Argohs — 

1 tell you the clear story — drove my father forth, 

Thyestes, his own brother, who had challenged him 1585 

m his king's right — forth from his city and his home. 

Yet sad Thyestes came again to supplicate 

the hearth, and win some grace, in that he was not slam 

« 86 >. 


nor soiled the doorstone of his fathers with blood spilled. 

Not his own blood. But Atreus, this man's godless sire, 1590 

angrily hospitable set a feast for him, 

in seeming a glad day of fresh meat slain and good 

cheer, then served my father his own children's flesh 

to feed on. For he carved away the extremities, 

hands, feet, and cut the flesh apart, and covered them 1595 

served in a dish to my father at his table apart, 

who with no thought for the featureless meal before him ate 

that ghastly food whose curse works now before your eyes. 

But when he knew the terrible thing that he had done, 

he spat the dead meat from him with a cry, and reeled 1600 

spurning the table back to heel with strength the curse: 

"Thus crash in ruin all the seed of Pleisthenes " 

Out of such acts you see this dead man stricken here, 

and It was I, m my right, who wrought this murder, I 

third born to my unhappy father, and with him 1605 

driven, a helpless baby m arms, to banishment. 

Yet I grew up, and justice brought me home again, 

till from afar I laid my hands upon this man, 

since it was I who pieced together the fell plot. 

Now I can die in honor again, if die I must, ifiio 
having seen him caught m the cords of his just punishment 


Aegisthus,«this strong vaunting in distress is vile, 

You claim that you deliberately killed the kmg, 

you, and you only, wrought the pity of this death 

I tell you then: There shall be no escape, your head 161 5 

shall face the stones of anger from the people's hands. 


So loud from you, stooped to the meanest rowing bench 

with the ship's masters lordly on the deck above? 

You are old men; well, you shall learn how hard it is 

at your age, to be taught how to behave yourselves. 1620 

But there are chains, there is starvation with its pam, 

« 87 » 


excellent teachers of good manners to old men, 

wise surgeons and exemplars. Look' Can you not see it? 

Lash not at the goads for fear you hit them, and be hurt. 


So then you, like a woman, waited the war out 1625 
here m the house, shaming the master's bed with lust, 
and planned against the lord of war this treacherous death? 


It is just such words as these will make you cry in pain. 

Not yours the hps of Orpheus, no, quite otherwise, 

whose voice of rapture dragged all creatures m his train. 1630 

You shall be dragged, for baby whimperings sobbed out 

m rage. Once broken, you will be easier to deal with. 


How shall you be lord of the men of Argos, you 

who planned the murder of this man, yet could not dare 

to act It out, and cut him down with your own hand? 1635 


No, clearly the deception was the woman's part, 
and I was suspect, that had hated him so long. 
Still with his money I shall endeavor to control 
the citizens. The mutinous man shall feel the yoke 
drag at his neck, no comfed racing colt that runs 
free traced; but hunger, gnm companion of the dark 
dungeon shall see him broken to the hand at last. 


But why, why then, you coward, could you not have slain 

your man yourself? Why must it be his wife who killed, 

to curse the country and the gods within the ground? 1645 

Oh, can Orestes live, be somewhere in sunhght still? 

Shall fate grown gracious ever bring him back again 

m strength of hand to overwhelm these murderers? 

< 88 > 




You shall learn then, since you stick to stubbornness of mouth 
and hand. 

Up now from your cover, my henchmen: here is work for you 
to do 1650 


Look, they come! Let every man clap fist upon his hilted sword. 

I too am sword-handed against you, I am not afraid of death. 

Death you said and death it shall be; we take up the word of 


No, my dearest, dearest of all men, we have done enough. No 

violence. Here is a monstrous harvest and a bitter reaping time. 1655 
There is pain enough akeady. Let us not be bloody now. 
Honored gentlemen of Argos, go to your homes now and give 

to the stress of fate and season. We could not do otherwise 
than we did. If this is the end of suffering, we can be content 
broken as we are by the brute heel of angry destiny. 1660 
Thus a wqpian speaks among you. Shall men deign to under- 


Yes, but think of these foolish hps that blossom into leering gibes, 
think of the taunts they spit against me danng destiny and power, 
sober opinion lost in insults hurled against my majesty. 


It was never the Argivc way to grovel at a vile man's feet. 1665 

I shall not forget this; m the days to come I shall be there. 

« 89 » 



Nevermore, if God's hand guiding brings Orestes home again. 

Exiles feed on empty dreams of hope. I know it. I was one. 

Have your way, gorge and grow fat, soil justice, while the 
power IS yours. 


You shall pay, make no mistake, for this misguided insolence. 1670 

Crow and strut, brave cockerel by your hen; you have no 
threats to fear. 


These are howls of impotent rage; forget them, dearest; you 
and I 

have the power; we two shall brmg good order to our house 
at least. 

(They enter the house. The doors close. All persons leave the stage.) 

ct go » 


Translated by 


Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemestra 

Pylades, his friend 

Electra, his sister 

Chorus, of foreign serving-women 

A servant {doorkeeper) 

Clytaemestra, now wife of Aegisthus, queen of Argos 
Cilissa, the nurse 
Aegisthus, now king of Argos 
A follower of Aegisthus 
Various attendants of Orestes, Clytaemestra, Aegisthus {silent parts) 


Scene: Argos. The first part of the play (i-d'ji) takes place at the tomb 
of Agamemnon: the last part (6j2 to the end) before the door of 
Clytaemestra's palace. No mechanical change of scene is neces- 
sary. The altar or tomb of Agamemnon should be well down stage. 
The door to the house should he in the center, hack. 

[Enter, as travelers, Orestes and Pylades.) 


Hermes, lord of the dead, who watch over the powers 
of my fathers, be my savior and stand by my claim. 
Here is my own soil that I walk. I have come home; 
and by this mounded gravebank I invoke my sire 
to hear, to hsten. 

Here is a lock of hair for Inachus, who made 

me grow to manhood. Here a strand to mark my grief. 

I was not by, my father, to mourn for your death 

nor stretched my hand out when they took your corpse away. 

[The chorus, with Electra, enter from the side.) 
But what can this mean that I see, this group that comes 
of women veiled in dignities of black? At what 
sudden occurrence can I guess? Is this some new 
wound strwck into our house? I think they brmg these urns 
to pour, in my father's honor, to appease the powers 
below. Can I be right' Surely, I think I see 
Electra, my own sister, walk m bitter show 
of mourning Zeus, Zeus, grant me vengeance for my father's 
murder. Stand and fight beside me, of your grace. 

Pylades, stand we out of their way. So may I learn 

the meanmg of these women; what their prayer would ask. 


I came in haste out of the house 

to carry libations, hurt by the hard stroke of hands. 

« 93 » 


My cheek shows bright, ripped m the bloody furrows 
of nails gashing the skm. 

This IS my life: to feed the heart on hard-drawn breath. 

And in my grief, with splitting weft 

of ragtorn linen across my heart's 

brave show of robes 

came sound of my hands' strokes 

in sorrows whence smiles are fled. 

Terror, the dream diviner of 

this house, belled clear, shuddered the skm, blew wrath 

from sleep, a cry in night's obscure watches, 

a voice of fear deep in the house, 

dropping deadweight in women's inner chambers. 

And they who read the dream meanmgs 

and spoke under guarantee of God 

told how under earth 

dead men held a grudge still 

and smoldered at their murderers. 

On such grace without grace, evil's turnmg aside 
(Earth, Earth, kmd mother!) 
bent, the godless woman 
sends me forth. But terror 
IS on me for this word let fall. 

What can wash off the blood once spilled upon the ground? 

O hearth soaked in sorrow, 

o wreckage of a fallen house. 

Sunless and where men fear to walk 

the mists huddle upon this house 

where the high lords have perished. 

The pride not to be warred with, fought with, not to be beaten 

of old, sounded in all men's 
ears, in all hearts sounded, 
has shrunk away. A man 
goes in fear. High fortune. 

« 94 » 


this in man's eyes is god and more than god is this. 

But, as a beam balances, so 

sudden disasters wait, to strike 

some m the brightness, some m gloom 

of half dark in their elder time. 

Desperate night holds others. 

Through too much glut of blood drunk by our fostering ground 
the vengeful gore is caked and hard, will not drain through 
The deep-run rum carries away 
the man of guilt. Swarmmg mfection boils within. 

For one who handles the bridal close, there is no cure. 

All the world's waters running m a single drift 

may try to wash blood from the hand 

of the stained man; they only brmg new blood guilt on. 

But as for me: gods have forced on my city 
resisted fate. From our fathers' houses 
they led us here, to take the lot of slaves. 
And mine it is to wrench my will, and consent 
to their commands, right or wrong, 
to beat down my edged hate. 
And yet under veils I weep 
the vanities that have killed 

my lord; and freeze with sorrow m the secret heart. 

Attendant women, who order our house, since you 

arc with me in this supphcation and escort 

me here, be also my advisers in this rite. 

What shall I say, as I pour out these outpourings 

of sorrow? How say the good word, how make my prayer 

to my father? Shall I say I brmg it to the man 

beloved, from a loving wife, and mean my mother? I 

have not the daring to say this, nor know what else 

to say, as I pour this hquid on my father's tomb. 

Shall I say this sentence, regular in human use: 

« 95 » 


"Grant good return to those who send to you these flowers 
of honor: gifts to match the . . . evil they have done." 

Or, quiet and dishonored, as my father died 
shall I pour out this offering for the ground to drink, 
and go, like one who empties garbage out of doors, 
and turn my eyes, and throw the vessel far away. 

Dear friends, in this deliberation stay with me. 
We hold a common hatred in this house Do not 
for fear of any, hide your thought inside your heart. 
The day of destiny waits for the free man as well 
as for the man enslaved beneath an alien hand. 
If you know any better course than mine, tell me. 


In reverence for your father's tomb as if it were 
an altar, I will speak my heart's thought, as you ask. 


Tell me then, please, as you respect my father's grave. 

Say words of grace for those of good will, as you pour. 

Whom of those closest to me can I call my friend? 

Yourself first; all who hate Aegisthus after that. 

You mean these prayers shall be for you, and for myself? 

You see it now; but it is you whose thought this is. 

Is there some other we should bring in on our side? 

Remember Orestes, though he wanders far away. 

< 96 » 



That was well spoken; you did well reminding mc. 

Remember, too, the murderers, and against them . . . 

What shall I say? Guide and instruct my ignorance. 

Invoke the coming of some man, or more than man. 

To come to judge them, or to give them punishment? 

Say simply: "one to kill them, for the life they took." 

I can ask this, and not be wrong in the gods' eyes? 

May you not hurt your enemy, when he struck first? 

Almighty herald of the world above, the world 

below: Hermes, lord of the dead, help me; announce 

my prayers to the charmed spirits underground, who watch 

over my Other's house, that they may hear Tell Earth 

herself, who brings all thmgs to birth, who gives them stren] 

then gathers their big yield mto herself at last. 

I myself pour these lustral waters to the dead, 

and speak, and call upon my father: Pity me; 

pity your own Orestes. How shall we be lords 

in our house? We have been sold, and go as wanderers 

because our mother bought herself, for us, a man, 

Aegisthus, he who helped her hand to cut you down. 

Now I am what a slave is, and Orestes lives 

outcast from his great properties, while they go proud 

m the high style and luxury of what you worked 

« 97 » 


to win. By some good fortune let Orestes come 

back home Such is my prayer, my father. Hear me; hear. 

And for myself, grant that I be more temperate 

of heart than my mother; that I act with purer hand. 

Such are my prayers for us; but for our enemies, 
father, I pray that your avenger come, that they 
who killed you shall be killed in turn, as they deserve. 
Between my prayer for good and prayer for good I set 
this prayer for evil; and I speak it agamst Them. 
For us, brmg blessings up mto the world Let Earth 
and conquering Justice, and aU gods beside, give aid. 

Such are my prayers; and over them I pour these drink 
offerings. Yours the strain now, yours to make them flower 
with moummg song, and incantation for the dead. 


Let the tear fall, that clashes as it dies 
as died our fallen lord; 

die on this mound that fences good from evil, 
washing away the death stam accursed 
of drink offermgs shed. Hear me, oh hear, my lord, 
majesty hear me from your dark heart; oh hear. 
Let one come, in strength 

of spear, some man at arms who will set free the house 
holdmg the Scythian bow backbent m his hands, 
a barbarous god of war spattering arrows 
or closing to slash, with sword hiked fast to his hand. 


Father, the earth has drunk my offerings poured to you. 
Something has happened here, ray women. Help me now. 


Speak, if you will. My heart is in a dance of fear. 

Someone has cut a strand of hair and laid it on 
the tomb. 

«: 98 » 



What man? Or was it some deep-waisted girl? 


There is a mark, which makes it plain for any to guess. 

Explain, and let your youth mstruct my elder age. 

No one could have cut ofif this strand, except myself. 

Those others, whom it would have become, are full of hate. 

Yet here it is, and for appearance matches well . . . 

With whose hair? Tell me. This is what I long to know. . . . 

With my own hair. It is almost exactly like. 

Can it then be a secret gift from Orestes? 

It seems that it must be nobody's hair but his. 

Did Orestes dare to come back here? How could this be? 

He sent this severed strand, to do my father grace. 

It will not stop my tears if you are nght. You mean 
that he can never again set foot upon this land, 


The bitter wash has surged upon my heart as well. 
I am struck through, as by the cross-stab of a sword, 

« 99 » 


and from my eyes the thirsty and unguarded drops 185 

burst in a storm of tears hke winter rain, as I 

look on this strand of hair. How could I think some other 

man, some burgess, could ever go grand in hair like this? 

She never could have cut it, she who murdered him 

and is my mother, but no mother in her heart 190 

which has assumed God's hate and hates her children. No. 

And yet, how can I say in open outright confidence 

this IS a treasured token from the best beloved 

of men to me, Orestes-" Does hope fawn on me? 


I wish it had the kind voice of a messenger 195 

so that my mind would not be torn in two, I not 

shaken, but it could tell me plain to throw this strand 

away as vile, if it was cut from a hated head, 

or like a brother could have mourned with me, and been 

a treasured splendor for my father, and his grave. 300 

The gods know, and we call upon the gods; they know 
how we are spun in circles like seafarers, m 
what storms But if we are to win, and our ship live, 
from one small seed could burgeon an enormous tree. 

But see, here is another sign Footprints are here. 205 

The feet that made them are alike, and look like mine 

There are two sets of footprints: of the man who gave 

his hair, and one who shared the road with him I step 

where he has stepped, and heelmarks, and the space between 

his heel and toe are like the prints I make. Oh, this 210 

is torment, and my wits are going. 

[Orestes comes from his place of concealment.) 


Pray for what is to come, and tell the gods that they 
have brought your former prayers to pass. Pray for success. 


Upon what ground? What have I won yet from the gods? 

« 100 » 



You have come m sight of all you long since prayed to sec. 21 5 


How did you know what man was subject of my prayer? 

I know about Orestes, how he stirred your heart. 

Yes; but how am I given an answer to my prayers? 

Look at me. Look for no one closer to you than L 

Is this some net of treachery, friend, you catch me in? 320 

Then I must be contriving plots agamst myself. 

It IS your pleasure to laugh at my unhappmess. 

1 only mock my own then, if I laugh at you. 

Are you really Orestes? Can I call you by that name? 

You see my actual self and are slow to learn. And yet 225 

you saw this strand of hair I cut in sign of grief 

and shuddered with excitement, for you thought you saw 

me, and again when you were measuring my tracks. 

Now lay the severed strand against where it was cut 

and sec how well your brother's hair matches my head. 230 

Look at this piece of weaving, the work of your hand 

with its blade strokes and figured design of beasts. No, no, 

control yourself, and do not lose your head for joy. 

I know those nearest to us hate us bitterly. 

< loi » 



O dearest, treasured darling of my father's house, 

hope of the seed of our salvation, wept for, trust 

your strength of hand, and win your father's house again 

O bright beloved presence, you bring back four lives 

to me. To call you father is constraint of fact, 

and all the love I could have borne my mother turns 

your way, while she is loathed as she deserves; my love 

for a pitilessly slaughtered sister turns to you. 

And now you were my steadfast brother after all. 

You alone bring me honor; but let Force, and Right, 

and Zeus almighty, third with them, be on your side. 


Zeus, Zeus, direct all that we try to do Behold 

the orphaned children of the eagle-father, now 

that he has died entangled in the binding coils 

of the deadly viper, and the young he left behmd 

are worn with hunger of starvation, not full grown 

to bring their shelter slain food, as their father did. 

I, with my sister, whom I name, Electra here, 

stand in your sight, children whose father is lost We both 

are driven from the house that should be ours If you 

destroy these fledgelings of a father who gave you 

sacrifice and high honor, from what hand hke his 

shall you be given the sacred feast which is your right' 

Destroy the eagle's brood, and you have no more means 

to send your signs to mortals for their strong belief; 

nor, if the stump rot through on this baronial tree, 

shall it sustam your altars on sacrificial days 

Safe keep it: from a little thmg you can raise up 

a house to grandeur, though it now seem overthrown. 


O children, silence ' Saviors of your father's house, 
be silent, children. Otherwise someone may hear 
and for mere love of gossip carry news of all 

« 102 » 


you do, to those m power, to those I long to sec 
some day as corpses in the leakmg pitch and flame. 


The big strength of Apollo's oracle will not 

forsake me. For he charged me to wm through this hazard, 270 

with divinaaon of much, and speech articulate, 

the winters of disaster under the warm heart 

were I to fail agamst my father's murderers; 

told me to cut them down in their own fashion, turn 

to the bull's fury in the loss of my estates. 275 

He said that else I must myself pay penalty 

with my own life, and suffer much sad punishment; 

spoke of the angers that come out of the ground from those 

beneath who turn against men; spoke of sicknesses, 

ulcers that ride upon the flesh, and clmg, and with 280 

wild teeth eat away the natural tissue, how on this 

disease shall grow in turn a leprous fur. He spoke 

of other ways again by which the avengers might 

attack, brought to fulfilment from my father's blood. 

For the dark arrow of the dead men underground 285 

from those within my blood who fell and turn to call 

upon me; madness and empty terror m the night 

on one who sees clear and whose eyes move m the dark, 

must tear him loose and shake him until, with all his bulk 

degraded ^jy the bronze-loaded lash, he lose his city. 290 

And such as he can have no share in the communal bowl 

allowed them, no cup filled for friends to drink. The wrath 

of the father comes unseen on them to drive them back 

from altars None can take them m nor shelter them. 

Dishonored and unloved by all the man must die 295 

at last, shrunken and wasted away m painful death. 

Shall I not trust such oracles as this? Or if 

I do not trust them, here is work that must be done. 

Here numerous desires converge to drive me on: 

the god's urgency and my father's passion, and 300 

« 103 » 


with these the loss of my estates wears hard on me; 
the thought that these my citizens, most high renowned 
of men, who toppled Troy in show of courage, must 
go subject to this brace of women; since his heart 
IS female; or, if it be not, that soon will show. 


Abnighty Destinies, by the will 

of Zeus let these things 

be done, in the turning of Justice. 

For the word of hatred spoken, let hate 

be a word fulfilled. The spirit of Right 

cries out aloud and extracts atonement 

due: blood stroke for the stroke of blood 

shall be paid. Who acts, shall endure. So speaks 

the voice of the age-old wisdom. 


Father, o my dread father, what thing 

can I say, can I accomplish 

from this far place where I stand, to mark 

and reach you there in your chamber 

with light that will match your dark? 

Yet it is called an action 

of grace to mourn in style for the house, 

once great, of the sons of Atreus. 


Child, when the fire bums 
and tears with teeth at the dead man 
it can not wear out the heart of will. 
He shows his wrath m the after- 
days. One dies, and is dirged. 
Light falls on the man who killed him. 
He is hunted down by the deathsong 
for sires slain and for fathers, 
disturbed, and stem, and enormous. 

« 104 > 



Hear me, my father; hear m turn 

all the tears of my sorrows. 

Two children stand at your tomb to smg 

the burden of your death chant. 

Your grave is shelter to supphants, 

shelter to the outdriven. 

What here is good; what escape from grief? 

Can we outwrestle disaster? 


Yet from such as this the god, if he will, 
can work out strains that are fairer. 
For dirges chanted over the grave 
the wmner's song in the lordly house; 
brmg home to new arms the beloved. 


If only at Ihum, 

father, and by some Lycian's hands 
you had gone down at the spear's stroke, 
you would have left high fame in your house, 
in the going forth of your children 
eyes' admiration; 

founded the deep piled bank of earth 
for grave by the doubled water 
with lighf lift for your household; 


loved then by those he loved 

down there beneath the ground 

who died as heroes, he would have held 

state, and a lord's majesty, 

vassal only to those most great, 

the Kmgs of the under darkness. 

For he was King on earth when he lived 

over those whose hands held power of life 

and death, and the staff of authority. 

« 105 » 



No, but not under Troy's 

ramparts, father, should you have died, 

nor, with the rest of the spearstruck hordes 

have found your grave by Scamandrus' crossing 

Sooner, his murderers 

should have been killed, as he was, 

by those they loved, and have found their death, 

and men remote from this outrage 

had heard the distant story. 


Child, child, you are dreaming, smce dreaming is a 
pastime, of fortune more golden than gold 
or the Blessed Ones north of the North Wind 
But the stroke of the twofold lash is pounding 
close, and powers gather under ground 
to give aid. The hands of those who arc lords 
are unclean, and these are accursed. 
Power grows on the side of the children. 


This cry has come to your ear 
like a deep driven arrow. 
Zeus, Zeus, force up from below 
ground the delayed destruction 
on the hard heart and the darmg 
hand, for the right of our fathers. 


May I claim right to close the deathsong 

chanted in glory across 

the man speared and the woman 

dying. Why darken what deep within me forever 

flitters? Long smce against the heart's 

stem a bitter wind has blown 

thin anger and burdened hatred. 

« io6 » 



May Zeus, from all shoulder's strength, 

pound down his fist upon them, 

ohay, smash their heads. 

Let the land once more believe. 

There has been wrong done. I ask for right. 

Hear me. Earth. Hear me, grandeurs of Darkness. 


It IS but law that when the red drops have been spilled 
upon the ground they cry aloud for fresh 
blood. For the death act calls out on Fury 
to bring out of those who were slam before 
new rum on rum accomplished. 


Hear me, you lordships of the world below. 
Behold m assembled power, curses come from the dead, 
behold the last of the sons of Atreus, foundering 
lost, without future, cast 

from house and right. O god, where shall we turn'' 

The heart jumped m me once agam 

to hear this unhappy prayer. 

I was disconsolate then 

and the dsep heart withm 

darkened to hear you speak it. 

But when strength came back hope lifted 

me agam, and the sorrow 

was gone and the light was on me. 


Of what thmg can we speak, and strike more close, 

than of the sorrows they who bore us have given? 

So let her fawn if she likes. It softens not. 

For we are bloody like the wolf 

and savage born from the savage mother. 

« 107 » 



I struck my breast in the stroke-style of the Arian, 
the Cissian mourning woman, 

and the hail-beat of the drifting fists was there to see 425 
as the rising pace went m a pattern of blows 
downward and upward until the crashing strokes 
played on my hammered, my all-stricken head. 


O cruel, cruel 

all daring mother, in cruel processional 430 

with all his citizens gone, 

with all sorrow for him forgotten 

you dared bury your unbewept lord. 


O all unworthy of him, that you tell me. 

Shall she not pay for this dishonor 435 

for all the immortals, 

for all my own hands can do? 

Let me but take her life and die for it. 


Know then, they hobbled him beneath the armpits, 

with his own hands. She wrought so, in his burial 440 

to make his death a burden 

beyond your strength to carry. 

The mutilation of your father. Hear it. 


You tell of how my father was murdered. Meanwhile I 445 

stood apart, dishonored, nothmg worth, 

in the dark corner, as you would kennel a vicious dog, 

and burst in an outrush of tears, that came that day 

where smiles would not, and hid the streaming of my grief. 

Hear such, and carve the letters of it on your heart. 450 

* 108 » 



Let words such as these 

drip deep in your ears, but on a quiet heart. 

So far all stands as it stands; 

what IS to come, yourself burn to know. 

You must be hard, give no ground, to win home. 4J5 

I speak to you. Be with those you love, my father. 

And I, all in my tears, ask with him. 

We gather mto murmurous revolt. Hear 
us, hear. Come back into the light. 

Be vnth us against those we hate. 460 

Warstrength shall coUide with warstrength, right with right. 

O gods, be just in what you bring to pass. 

My flesh crawls as I listen to them pray. 
The day of doom has waited long. 

They call for it. It may come. 465 

O pam grown into the race 

and blood-dripping stroke 

and grinding cry of disaster, 

moaning and impossible weight to bear. 

Sickness that fights all remedy. 47° 

Here in the house there lies 

the cure for this, not to be brought 

from outside, never from others 

but in themselves, through the fierce wreck and bloodshed. 

Here is a song sung to the gods beneath us. 475 

. 109 » 


Hear then, you blessed ones under the ground, 
and answer these prayers with strength on our side, 
free gift for your children's conquest. 


Father, o King who died no kingly death, I ask 

the gift of lordship at your hands, to rule your house. 


I too, my father, ask of you such grace as this: 

to murder Aegisthus with strong hand, and then go free. 


So shall your memory have the feasts that men honor 
in custom. Otherwise when feasts are gay, and portions 
burn for the earth, you shall be there, and none give heed. 


I too out of my own full dowership shall bring 
libations for my bridal from my father's house. 
Of all tombs, yours shall be the lordUest in my eyes. 


O Earth, let my father emerge to watch me fight. 

Persephone, grant still the wonder of success. 

Think of that bath, father, where you were stripped of life. 

Think of the casting net that they contrived for you. 

They caught you like a beast in toils no bronzesmith made. 

Rather, hid you in shrouds that were thought out in shame. 

Will you not waken, father, to these challenges? 

« no » 



Will you not rear upright that best beloved head? 

Send out your right to battle on the side of those 

you love, or give us holds like those they caught you in. 

For they threw you. Would you not see them thrown in turn' 


Hear one more cry, father, from me. It is my last. 

Your nestlings huddle suppliant at your tomb: look forth 

and pity them, female with the male strain alike. 

Do not wipe out this seed of the Pelopidae. 

So, though you died, you shall not yet be dead, for when 

a man dies, children are the voice of his salvation 

afterward. Like corks upon the net, these hold 

the drenched and flaxen meshes, and they will not drown. 

Hear us, then. Our complaints are for your sake, and if 

you honor this our argument, you save yourself. 


None can find fault with the length of this discourse you drew 

out, to show honor to a grave and fate unwept 

before. The rest is action. Since your heart is set 

that way, now you must strike and prove your destiny. 


So. But I am not wandering from my strict course 
when I ask why she sent these hbations, for what cause 
she acknowledges, too late, a crime for which there is 
no cure. Here was a wretched grace brought to a man 
dead and unfeelmg. This I fail to understand. 
The offerings are too small for the act done. Pour out 
all your possessions to atone one act of blood, 
you waste your work, it is all useless, reason says. 
Explain me this, for I would learn it, if you know. 



I know, child, I was there. It was the dreams she had. 
The godless woman had been shaken m the night 
by floating terrors, when she sent these ofFermgs. 


Do you know the dream, too? Can you tell it to me right? 

She told me herself. She dreamed she gave birth to a snake. 

What is the end of the story then? What is the point? 

She kid it swathed for sleep as if it were a child. 

A little monster. Did it want some kind of food? 

She herself, in the dream, gave it her breast to suck. 

How was her nipple not torn by such a beastly thing? 

It was. The creature drew in blood along with the milk. 

No void dream this. It is the vision of a man. 

She woke screaming out of her sleep, shaky with fear, 
as torches kindled all about the house, out of 
the blind dark that had been on them, to comfort the queen. 
So now she sends these mourning offerings to be poured 
and hopes they are medicinal for her disease. 


But I pray to the earth and to my father's grave 
that this dream is for me and that I will succeed. 

« 112 » 


See, I divine it, and it coheres all in one piece. 

If this snake came out of the same place whence I came, 

if she wrapped it in robes, as she wrapped me, and if 

Its jaws gaped wide around the breast that suckled me, 54j 

and if it stained the intimate milk with an outburst 

of blood, so that for fright and pain she cried aloud. 

It follows then, that as she nursed this hideous thing 

of prophecy, she must be cruelly murdered. I 

turn snake to kill her. This is what the dream portends. 550 

I choose you my interpreter to read these dreams. 

So may it happen. Now you must rehearse your side 

in their parts. For some, this means the parts they must not play. 


Simple to tell them. My sister here must go inside. 

I charge her to keep secret what we have agreed, 555 

so that, as they by treachery killed a man of high 

degree, by treachery tangled in the self same net 

they too shall die, in the way Loxias has ordained, 

my lord Apollo, whose word was never false before. 

Disguised as an outlander, for which I have all gear, 560 

I shall go to the outer gates with Pylades 

whom you see here. He is hereditary friend 

and companion-in-arms of my house. We two shall both assume 

the Parnassian dialect and imitate the way 

they talk in Phocis. If none at the door will take us in 565 

kindly, because the house is in a curse of ills, 

we shall stay there, till anybody who goes by 

the house will wonder why we are shut out, and say: 

"why does Aegisthus keep the suppliant turned away 

from his gates, if he is hereabouts and knows of this'" 57° 

But if I once cross the doorstone of the outer gates 

and find my man seated upon my father's throne, 

or if he comes down to confront me, and uplifts 

his eyes to mine, then lets them drop again, be sure. 

« 113 » 


before he can say: "where does the stranger come from-*" I 
shall plunge my sword with Iightnmg speed, and drop hmi dead. 
Our Fury who is never starved for blood shall drink 
for the third time a cupful of unwatered blood. 

Electra, keep a careful eye on all within 
the house, so that our plans will hold together. You, 
women. I charge you, hold your tongues religiously. 
Be silent if you must, or speak in the way that will 
help us. And now I call upon the god who stands 
close, to look on, and guide the actions of my sword. 

(Exeunt Orestes and Pylades. Exit separately, Electra ) 


Numberless, the earth breeds 
dangers, and the sober thought of fear. 
The bending sea's arms swarm 
with bitter, savage beasts. 
Torches blossom to burn along 
the high space between ground and sky 
Things fly, and things walk the earth. 
Remember too 

the storm and wrath of the whirlwind. 

But who can recount all 

the high daring in the will 

of man, and in the stubborn hearts of women 

the all-adventurous passions 

that couple with man's overthrow. 

The female force, the desperate 

love crams its resisted way 

on marriage and the dark embrace 

of brute beasts, of mortal men 

Let him, who goes not on flimsy wings 
of thought, learn from her, 
Althaea, Thestius' 

daughter: who maimed her child, and hard 
of heart, in deliberate guile 

« 114 » 


set fire to the bloody torch, her own son's 
agemate, that from the day he emerged 
from the mother's womb crymg 

shared the measure of all his life 610 
down to the marked death day. 

And in the legends there is one more, a girl 
of blood, figure of hate 

who, for the enemy's 615 

sake killed one near in blood, seduced by the wrought 

golden necklace from Crete, 

wherewith Minos bribed her. She sundered 

from Nisus his immortal hair 

as he all unsuspectmg 620 
breathed in a tranquil sleep. Foul wretch, 
Hermes of death has got her now. 

Smce I recall cruelties from quarrels long 

ago, in vam, and married love turned to bitterness 

a house would fend far away 625 

by curse; the guile, treacheries of the woman's heart 

agamst a lord armored in 

power, a lord his enemies revered, 

I prize the hearth not inflamed within the house, 

the woman's right pushed not into daring. 630 

Of all fouli things legends tell the Lemnian 

outranks, a vile wizard's charm, detestable 

so that man names a hideous 

crime "Lemnian" in memory of their wickedness 

When once the gods loathe a breed 635 

of men they go outcast and forgotten. 

No man respects what the gods have turned against. 

What of these tales I gather has no meanmg? 

The sword edges near the lungs. 

It stabs deep, bittersharp, 640 
and right drives it. For that which had no right 

I 115 3. 


lies not yet stamped into the ground, although 

one in sm transgressed Zeus' majesty. 645 

, Right's anvil stands staunch on the ground 
and the smith. Destiny, hammers out the sword. ^; 
Delayed in glory, pensive from 

the murk, Vengeance brmgs home at last 650 
a child, to wipe out the stain of blood shed long ago. 

(Enter Orestes and Pylades ) 


In there! Inside! Does anyone hear me knockmg at 
the gate? I will try again. Is anyone at home? 

Try a third time. I ask for someone to come from the house, 65 < 

if Aegisthus lets it welcome friendly visitors. 

Servant [inside) 

All right, I hear you. Where does the stranger come from, then? 

Announce me to the masters of the house. It is 

to them I come, and I have news for them to hear. 

And be quick, for the darkening chariot of night 660 

leans to its course; the hour for wayfarers to drop 

anchor m some place that entertains all travelers. 

Have someone of authority in the house come out, 

the lady of the place or, more appropriately, 

its lord, for then no delicacy in speaking blurs 66$ 
the spoken word. A man takes courage and speaks out 
to another man, and makes clear everything he means. 

[Enter Clytaemestra ) 


Friends, tell me only what you would have, and it is yours. 

We have all comforts that go with a house like ours, 

hot baths, and beds to charm away your weariness 670 

with rest, and the regard of temperate eyes. But if 

you have some higher business, more a matter of state, 

that is the men's concern, and I will tell them of it. 

•c 116 » 



I am a Daulian stranger out of Phocis. As 

I traveled with my pack and my own following 

making for Argos, where my feet are rested now, 

I met a man I did not know, nor did he know 

me, but he asked what way I took, and told me his. 

It was a Phocian, Strophius; for he told me his name 

and said: "Friend, since in any case you make for Argos, 

remember carefully to tell Orestes' parents 

that he is dead; please do not let it shp your mind. 

Then, if his people deade to have him brought back home, 

or bury him where he went to hve, all outlander 

forever, carry their requests again to me. 

For as it is the bronze walls of an urn close in 

the ashes of a man who has been deeply mourned." 

So much I know, no more. But whether I now talk 
with those who have authority and concern m this 
I do not know. I think his father should be told. 


Ah me. You tell us how we are stormed from head to heel. 

Oh curse upon our house, bitter antagomst, 

how far your eyes range. What was clean out of your way 

your archery brings down with a distant deadly shot 

to strip unkappy me of all I ever loved. 

Even Orestes now! He was so well advised 

to keep his foot clear of this swamp of death. But now 

set down as traitor the hope that was our healer once 

and made us look for a bright revel in our house. 


I could have wished, with hosts so prosperous as you, 
to have made myself known by some more gracious news 
and so been entertained by you. For what is there 
more kindly than the feelmg between host and guest? 
Yet it had been abuse of duty in my heart 

« 117 » 


had I not given so great a matter to his friends, 705 
being so bound by promise and the stranger's rights 


You shall not find that your reception falls below 

your worth, nor be any the less our friend for this. 

Some other would have brought the news in any case. 

But it is the hour for travelers who all day have trudged 710 

the long road, to be given the rest that they deserve. 

Escort this gentleman with his companion and 

his men, to where our masculine friends are made at home. 

Look after them, m manner worthy of a house 

like ours; you are responsible for their good care. 715 

Meanwhile, we shall communicate these matters to 

the masters of the house, and with our numerous friends 

dehbcrate the issues of this fatal news. 

{Exeunt all but the Chorus ) 


Handmaidens of this house, who help our cause, 

how can our lips frame 720 

some force that will show for Orestes? 

0 Lady Earth, Earth Queen, who now 
ride mounded over the lord of ships 
where the King's corpse lies buried, 

hear us, help us. 725 

Now the time breaks for Persuasion in stealth 

to go down to the pit, with Hermes of death 

and the dark, to direct 

trial by the sword's fierce edge. 

1 think our newcomer is at his deadly work; 730 
I see Orestes' old nurse coming forth, in tears. 

{Enter Cilissa.) 

Now where away, CiUssa, through the castle gates, 
with sorrow as your hireless fellow-wayfarer? 

< 118 > 



The woman who is our mistress told me to make haste 

and summon Aegisthus for the strangers, "so that he 

can come and hear, as man to man, m more detail 

this news that they have brought." She put a sad face on 

before the servants, to hide the smile inside her eyes 

over this work that has been done so happily 

for her — though on this house the curse is now complete 

from the plain story that the stranger men have brought. 

But as for that Aegisthus, oh, he will be pleased 

enough to hear the story. Poor unhappy me, 

all my long-standmg mixture of misfortunes, hard 

burden enough, here m this house of Atreus, 

when It befell me made the heart ache in my breast. 

But never yet did I have to bear a hurt like this. 

I took the other troubles bravely as they came: 

but now, darlmg Orestes! I wore out my life 

for him. I took him from his mother, brought him up. 

There were times when he screamed at night and woke me 

my rest; I had to do many hard tasks, and now 

useless; a baby is like a beast, it does not think 

but you have to nurse it, do you not, the way it wants. 

For the child still m swaddling clothes can not tell us 

if he is hungry or thirsty, if he needs to make 

water Ch^dren's young insides are a law to themselves. 

I needed second sight for this, and many a time 

I think I missed, and had to wash the baby's clothes. 

The nurse and laundrywoman had a combined duty 

and that was 1. 1 was skilled in both handicrafts, 

and so Orestes' father gave him to my charge. 

And now, unhappy, I am told that he is dead 

and go to take the story to that man who has 

defiled our house; he will be glad to hear such news. 


Did she say he should come back armed in any way? 

« 119 » 



How, armed? Say it again. I do not understand. 

Was he to come with bodyguards, or by himself? 

She said to brmg his followers, the men-at-arms. 

Now, if you hate our master, do not tell him that, 
but simply bid him come as quickly as he can 
and cheerfully. In that way he will not take fright. 
It is the messenger who makes the bent word straight. 


But are you happy over what I have told you? 

Perhaps: if Zeus might turn our evil wmd to good. 

How so? Orestes, once hope of the house, is gone. 

Not yet. It would be a poor seer who saw it thus. 

What is this? Have you some news that has not been told? 

Go on and take your message, do as you were bid. 
The gods' concerns are what concern only the gods. 


I will go then and do all this as you have told 
me to. May all be for the best. So grant us god. 

(Exit Cilissa.) 


Now to my supplication, Zeus, 
father of Olympian gods, 

« 120 > 


grant that those who struggle hard to see 785 

temperate things done in the house wm their aim 

m full. All that I spoke 

was spoken in right. Yours, Zeus, to protect. 

Zeus, Zeus, make him who is now 

in the house stand above those who 790 

hate. If you rear him to greatness, 

double and three times 

and blithely he will repay you. 

See the colt of this man whom you loved 

harnessed to the chariot 795 
of suffering. Set upon the race he runs 
sure control. Make us not see him break 
stride, but clean down the course 
hold the stram of his striding speed. 

You that, deep in the house 800 

sway their secret pride of wealth, 

hear us, gods of sympathy. 

For thmgs done in time past 

wash out the blood m fair-spoken verdict. 

Let the old murder in 805 
the house breed no more. 

And you, who keep, magnificent, the hallowed and huge 
cavern, o gsant that the man's house lift up its head 
and look on the shining of dayhght 
and liberty with eyes made 

glad with gazing out from the helm of darkness. 8io 

And with right may the son 

of Maia lend his hand, strong to send 

wind fair for action, if he will. 

Much else hes secret he may show at need. 815 

He speaks the markless word, by 

night hoods darkness on the eyes 

nor shows more plainly when the day is there. 

« 121 > 


Then at last we shall sing 

for deliverance of the house 8ao 

the woman's song that sets the wind 

fair, no thin drawn and grief 

struck wail, but this: "The ship sails fair." 

My way, mine, the advantage piles here, with wreck 

and rum far from those I love. 825 

Be not fear struck when your turn comes in the action 
but with a great cry Father 
when she cries Child to you 

go on through with the innocent murder. 830 

Yours to raise high within 

your body the heart of Perseus 

and for those under the ground you loved 

and those yet above, exact 

what their bitter passion may desire; make 835 
disaster a thing of blood inside the house; 
wipe out the man stained with murder. 

(Enter Aegisthus ) 


It is not without summons that I come, but called 

by messenger, with news that there are strangers here 

arrived, tellmg a story that brings no delight: 840 

the death of Orestes. For our house, already bitten 

and poisoned, to take this new load upon itself 

would be a thing of dripping fear and blood. Yet how 

shall I pass upon these rumors' As the living truth? 

For messages made out of women's terror leap 845 

high in the upward air and empty die. Do you 

know anything of this by which to clear my mind' 


We heard, yes. But go on inside and hear it from 
the strangers. Messengers are never quite so sure 

as a man's questions answered by the men themselves. 850 

« 122 » 



I wish to question, carefully, this messenger 
and learn if he hunself was by when the man died 
or if he heard but some blmd rumor and so speaks. 
The mind has eyes, not to be easily deceived. 

(Exit Aegisthus.) 


Zeus, Zeus, what shall I say, where make 
a beginnmg of prayer for the gods' aid' 
My will IS good 

but how shall I speak to match my need' 
The bloody edges of the knives that np 
man-flesh are moving to work It will mean 
utter and final ruin imposed 
on Agamemnon's 

house: or our man will kindle a flame 
and hght of hberty, wm the domain 
and huge treasure again of his fathers. 
Forlorn challenger, though blessed by god, 
Orestes must come to grips with two, 
so wrestle. Yet may he throw them. 

(A cry is heard from inside the house.) 

Listen, it goes 

but how? What has been done in the house? 
Stand we aside until the work is done, for so 
we shall not seem to be accountable in this 
foul busmess For the fight is done, the issue drawn. 

(Enter a follower of Aegisthus ) 


O sorrow, all is sorrow for our stricken lord. 

Raise up again a triple cry of sorrow, for 

Aegisthus lives no longer. Open there, open 

quick as you may, and slide back the doorbars on the women's 

gates. It will take the strength of a young arm, but not 

to fight for one who is dead and done for. What use there? 

« 123 » 



My cry is to the deaf and I babble in vain 
at sleepers to no purpose. Clytaemestra, where 
IS she, does what? Her neck is on the razor's edge 
and ripe for lopping, as she did to others before. 

(Enter Clytaemestra ) 


What is this, and why are you shouting in the house'' 88 j 


I tell you, he is alive and killing the dead. 

Ah, so. You speak in riddles, but I read the rhyme. 

We have been won with the treachery by which we slew. 

Bring me quick, somebody, an ax to kill a man 

(Exit follower.) 

and we shall see if we can beat him before we 890 
go down — so far gone are we m this wretched fight. 

(Enter Orestes and Pylades with swords drawn ) 


I want you also: the other one has had enough. 

Beloved, strong Aegisthus, are you dead indeed? 

You love your man, then? You shall he in the same grave 

with hun, and never be unfaithful even in death. 895 


Hold, my son. Oh take pity, child, before this breast 

where many a time, a drowsing baby, you would feed 

and with soft gums sucked in the milk that made you strong, 


What shall I do, Pylades? Be shamed to kill my mother? 

< 124 » 



What then becomes thereafter of the oracles 
declared by Loxias at Pytho? What of sworn oaths? 
Count all men hateful to you rather than the gods 


I judge that you win. Your advice is good. 

{To Clytaemestra.) 

Come here. 
My purpose is to kill you over his body. 
You thought him bigger than my father while he hved. 
Die then and sleep beside him, since he is the man 
you love, and he you should have loved got only your hate. 


I raised you when you were httle. May I grow old with you? 

You killed my father. Would you make your home with me? 

Destmy had some part m that, my child. 


Why then 

destiny has so wrought that this shall be your death. 

Clytaemestra ^ 

A mother has her curse, child. Are you not afraid? 


No, You bore me and threw me away, to a hard life, 

I sent you to a friend's house. This was no throwmg away. 

I was bom of a free father. You sold me. 

So? Where then is the price that I received for you? 

« 125 » 



I could say It would be indecent to tell you 


Or if you do, tell also your father's vanities. 


Blame him not. He suffered while you were sittmg here at home. 

It hurts women to be kept from their men, my child. 920 

The man's hard work supports the women who sit at home. 

I think, child, that you mean to kill your mother. 


It will be you who kill yourself. It wdl not be I. 

Take care. Your mother's curse, like dogs, will drag you down. 

How shall I escape my father's curse, if I fail here' 925 

I feel like one who wastes live tears upon a tomb. 

Yes, this is death, your wages for my father's fate. 

You are the snake I gave birth to, and gave the breast. 

Indeed, the terror of your dreams saw thmgs to come 

clearly. You killed, and it was wrong. Now suffer wrong. 930 

[Orestes and Pylades take Clytaemestra inside the house ) 
< 126 » 



I have sorrow even for this pair in their twofold 
downfall. But since Orestes had the hardiness 
to end this chain of bloodlettings, here lies our choice, 
that the eyes' light in tbs house shall not utterly die. 

Justice came at the last to Pnam and aU his sons 

and it was heavy and hard, 

but into the house of Agamemnon returned 

the double lion, the double assault, 

and the Pythian-steered exile 

drove home to the hilt 

vengeance, moving strongly in guidance sent by the god. 

Raise up the high cry o over our lordships' house 
won free of distress, free of its fortunes wasted 
by two stained with murder, 
free of its mournful luck. 

He came back; his work lay in the secret attack 
and it was stealthy and hard 

but in the fighting his hand was steered by the very daughter 
of Zeus: Right we call her, 

mortals who speak of her and name her well. Her wind 
is fury and death visited upon those she hates. 

AU that LcScias, who on Parnassus holds 

the huge, the deep cleft in the ground, shrilled aloud, 

by guile that is no guile 

returns now to assault the wrong done and grown old. 
Divinity keeps, we know not how, strength to resist 
surrender to the wicked. 

The power that holds the sky's majesty wins our worship. 

Light is here to behold. 
The big bit that held our house is taken away. 
Rise up, you halls, arise; for time grown too long 
you lay tumbled along the ground. 

« 127 » 


Time brings all things to pass Presently time shall cross 
the outgates of the house after the stain is driven 
entire from the hearth 

by ceremonies that wash clean and cast out the furies. 
The dice of fortune shall be thrown once more, and lie 
in a fair fall smiling 

up at the new indwellers come to live m the house. 

(The doors of the house open, to show Orestes standing over the 
bodies of Clytaemestra and Aegisthus. His attendants display 
the robe in which Clytaemestra had entangled Agamem- 
non and which she displayed after his murder.) 


Behold the twin tyrannies of our land, these two 

who killed my father and who sacked my house. For a time 

they sat upon their thrones and kept their pride of state, 

and they are lovers still. So may you judge by what 

befell them, for as they were pledged their oath abides 

They swore together death for my unhappy sure 

and swore to die together. Now they keep their oath. 

Behold again, o audience of these evil thmgs, 
the engine against my wretched father they devised, 
the hands' entanglement, the hobbles for his feet. 
Spread it out. Stand around me in a circle and 
display this net that caught a man. So shall, not my 
father, but that great father who sees all, the Sun, 
look on my mother's sacrilegious handiwork 
and be a witness for me m my day of trial 
how it was m all right that I achieved this death, 
my mother's' for of Aegisthus' death I take no count: 
he has his seducer's punishment, no more than law. 

But she, who plotted this foul death against the man 
by whom she carried the weight of children underneath 
her zone, burden once loved, shown hard and hateful now, 
what does she seem to be? Some water snake, some viper 

« 12S » 


whose touch is rot even to him who felt no fang 
strike, by that brutal and wrong daring in her heart. 

And this thing: what shall I call it and be right, in all 

eloquence? Trap for an animal or winding sheet 

for dead man? Or bath curtain? Since it is a net, 

robe you could call it, to entangle a man's feet. 

Some highwayman might own a thing like this, to catch 

the wayfarer and rob him of his money and 

so make a living. With a treacherous thing like this 

he could take many victims and go warm within. 

May no such wife as she was come to live with me. 
Sooner, let God destroy me, with no children bom. 


Ah, but the pitiful work. 

Dismal the death that was your ending. 

He is left ahve; pain flowers for him. 


Did she do it or did she not? My witness is 
this great robe. It was thus she stained Aegisthus' sword. 
Dip it and dip it again, the smear of blood conspires 
with time to spoil the beauty of this precious thing. 
Now I can praise him, now I can stand by to mourn 
and speak before this web that killed my father; yet 
I grieve fdt the thing done, the death, and all our race. 
I have won; but my victory is soiled, and has no pride. 


There is no mortal man who shall turn 
unhurt his life's course to an end not marred. 
There is trouble here. There is more to come. 


I would have you know, I see not how this thmg will end. 
I am a charioteer whose course is wrenched outside 
the track, for I am beaten, my rebellious senses 

« 129 n 


bolt with me headlong and the fear agamst my heart 

is ready for the singing and dance of wrath. But while lo^s 

I hold some grip still on my wits, I say publicly 

to my friends: I killed my mother not without some right. 

My father's murder stained her, and the gods' disgust. 

As for the spells that charmed me to such daring, I 

give you in chief the seer of Pytho, Loxias. He 1030 

declared I could do this and not be charged with wrong. 

Of my evasion's pumshment I will not speak: 

no archery could hit such height of agony. 

And look upon me now, how I go armored in 

leafed branch and garland on my way to the centrestonc 1035 

and sancmary, and Apollo's level place, 

the shining of the fabulous fire that never dies, 

to escape this blood that is my own Loxias ordained 

that I should turn me to no other shrine than this 

To all men of Argos in time to come I say 1040 
they shall be witness, how these evil things were done. 
I go, an outcast wanderer from this land, and leave 
behind, in life, in death, the name of what I did. 


No, what you did was well done. Do not therefore bind 

your mouth to foul speech. Keep no evil on your lips. 1045 

You liberated all the Argive city when 

you lopped the heads of these two snakes with one clean stroke. 

Women who serve this house, they come like gorgons, they 

wear robes of black, and they are wreathed in a tangle 

of snakes. I can no longer stay. 1050 


Orestes, dearest to your father of all men 

what fancies whirl you? Hold, do not give way to fear. 

« 130 » 



These are no fancies of affliction. They are clear, 

and real, and here; the bloodhounds of my mother's hate 


It is the blood still wet upon your hands, that makes 105s 
this shaken turbulence be thrown upon your sense. 


Ah, Lord Apollo, how they grow and multiply, 
repulsive for the blood drops of their drippmg eyes. 


There is one way to make you clean: let Loxias 

touch you, and set you free from these disturbances. 1060 

You can not see them, but I see them. I am driven 
from this place. I can stay here no longer. 



May all come right for you then, and may the god look on 
you with favor and guard you m kind circumstance. 

Here on this house of the kings the third 1065 

storm has broken, with wind 

from the inward race, and gone its course. 

The childftn were eaten: there was the first 

affliction, the curse of Thyestes 

Next came the royal death, when a man 1070 

and lord of Achaean armies went down 

killed in the bath. Third 

is for the savior. He came. Shall I call 

it that, or death? Where 

is the end? "Where shall the fury of fate 1075 
be stilled to sleep, be done with? 

(Exeunt ) 

« 131 » 


Translated by 


Priestess of Apollo, the Pythia 

Hermes (silent) 
Ghost of Clytaemestra 

Chorus of Eimenides (Furies) 
Second Chorus; women of Athens 
Jftrytnen, herald, citizens of Athens (all silent parts) 


Scene. For the first part of the flay [1-234) the scene is Delphi, before the 
sanctuary of Pythian Apollo. The action of the rest of the play 
(235 to the end) takes place at Athens, on the Acropolis before the 
temple oj Athene. A simple change in the backdrop will indicate 
the shift. 

{Enter, alone, the Pythia.) 


I give first place of honor in my prayer to her 

who of the gods first prophesied, the Earth; and next 

to Themis, who succeeded to her mother's place 

of prophecy; so runs the legend; and in third 

succession, given by free consent, not won by force, 

another Titan daughter of Earth was seated here. 

This was Phoebe. She gave it as a birthday gift 

to Phoebus, who is called still after Phoebe's name. 

And he, leaving the pond of Delos and the reef, 

grounded his ship at the roadstead of Pallas, then 

made his way to this land and a Parnassian home. 

Deep in respect for his degree Hephaestus' sons 

conveyed him here, for these are builders of roads, and changed 

the wilderness to a land that was no wilderness. 

He came so, and the people highly honored him, 

with Delphus, lord and helmsman of the country. Zeus 

made his mmd full with godship and prophetic craft 

and placed him, fourth in a line of seers, upon this throne. 

So, Loxias is the spokesman of his father, Zeus. 

These are the gods I set m the proem of my prayer. 
But Pallas-before-the-temple has her right in all 
I say. I worship the nymphs where the Corycian rock 
is hollowed mward, haunt of birds and paced by gods. 
Bromius, whom I forget not, sways this place. From here 
m divine form he led his Bacchanals in arms 

« 135 » 


to hunt do-wn Pentheus like a hare in the deathtrap. 
I call upon the springs of Pleistus, on the power 
of Poseidon, and on final loftiest Zeus, 
then go to sit in prophecy on the throne. May all 
grant me that this of all my entrances shall be 
the best by far. If there are any Hellenes here 
let them draw lots, so enter, as the custom is. 
My prophecy is only as the god may guide. 

(She enters the temple and almost immediately comes out again.) 

Thmgs terrible to tell and for the eyes to see 

terrible drove me out again from Loxias' house 

so that I have no strength and cannot stand on sprmging 

feet, but run with hands' help and my legs have no speed. 

An old woman afraid is nothing: a child, no more. 

See, I am on my way to the wreath-hung recess 
and on the centrestone I see a man with god's 
defilement on him postured in the suppliant's seat 
with blood dripping from his hands and from a new-drawn 


holding too a branch that had grown high on an ohve 
tree, decorously wrapped in a great tuft of wool, 
and the fleece shone. So far, at least, I can speak clear. 

In front of this man slept a starthng company 
of women lying all upon the chairs. Or not 
women, I think I call them rather gorgons, only 
not gorgons either, since their shape is not the same. 
I saw some creatures painted in a picture once, 
who tore the food from Phineus, only these had no 
wmgs, that could be seen; they are black and utterly 
repulsive, and they snore with breath that drives one back. 
From their eyes drips the foul ooze, and their dress is such 
as IS not right to wear in the presence of the gods' 
statues, nor even into any human house. 
I have never seen the tribe that owns this company 
nor know what piece of earth can claim with pride it bore 

« 136 » 


such brood, and without hurt and tears for labor given. 

Now after this the master of the house must take 
his own measures: Apollo Loxias, who is very strong 
and heals by divination; reads portentous signs, 
and so clears out the houses others hold as well. 

(Exit. The doors of the temple open and show Orestes sur- 
rounded by the sleeping Furies, Apollo and 
Hermes beside him ) 


I vnll not give you up. Through to the end standing 

your guardian, whether by your side or far away, 

I shall not weaken toward your enemies. See now 

how I have caught and overpowered these lewd creatures. 

The repulsive maidens have been stilled to sleep, those gray 

and aged children, they with whom no mortal man, 

no god, nor even any beast, will have to do. 

It was because of evil they were born, because 

they hold the evil darkness of the Pit below 

Earth, loathed alike by men and by the heavenly gods. 

Nevertheless, run from them, never weaken. They 

will track you down as you stride on across the long 

land, and your driven feet forever pound the earth, 

on across the main water and the circle-washed 

cities. Be herdsman to this hard march. Never fail 

until you come at last to Pallas* citadel. 

Kneel there, and clasp the ancient idol in your arms, 

and there we shall find those who will judge this case, and words 

to say that will have magic in their figures. Thus 

you will be rid of your afflictions, once for all. 

For it was I who made you strike your mother down. 


My lord Apollo, you understand what it means to do 

no wrong. Learn also what it is not to neglect. 

None can mistrust your power to do good, if you will. 

« 137 » 



Remember: the fear must not give you a beaten heart. 

Hermes, you are my brother from a single sire 

Look after him, and as you are named the god who guides, 

be such in strong fact He is my supphant. Shepherd him 

with fortunate escort on his journeys among men. 

The wanderer has rights which Zeus acknowledges. 

{Exit Apollo, then Orestes guided by Hermes. Enter the 

ghost of Clytaemestra.) 


You would sleep, then? And what use are you, if you sleep? 

It is because of you I go dishonored thus 

among the rest of the dead. Because of those I killed 

my bad name among the perished suffers no eclipse 

but I am driven m disgrace I say to you 

that I am charged with guilt most grave by these. And yet 

I suffered too, horribly, and from those most dear, 

yet none among the powers is angered for my sake 

that I was slaughtered, and by matricidal hands. 

Look at these gashes m my heart, think where they came 

from. Eyes illuminate the sleeping brain, 

but m the daylight man's future cannot be seen. 

Yet I have given you much to lap up, outpourmgs 
without vnne, sober propitiations, sacrificed 
in secrecy of night and on a hearth of fire 
for you, at an hour given to no other god. 
Now I watch all these honors trampled into the ground, 
and he is out and gone away like any fawn 
so lightly, from the very middle of your nets, 
sprung clear, and laughing merrily at you. Hear me. 
It is my life depends upon this spoken plea. 
Think then, o goddesses beneath the ground. For I, 
the dream of Clytaemestra, call upon your name 

(The Furies stir in their sleep and whimper.) 
« 138 » 



Oh, whimper, then, but your man has got away and gone 
far. He has friends to help him, who are not hke mine. 

(They whimper again ) izo 


Too much sleep and no pity for my phght. I stand, 
his mother, here, killed by Orestes He is gone. 

{They moan in their sleep ) 


You moan, you sleep. Get on your feet quickly, will you? 

What have you yet got done, except to do evil? 125 

(They moan again ) 


Sleep and fatigue, two masterful conspirators, 
have dimmed the deadly anger of the mother-snake. 

(The Chorus start violently, then speak in their sleep.) 


Get him, get him, get him, get him. Make sure. 130 

The beast you are after is a dream, but like the hound 

whose thought of htmting has no lapse, you bay him on. 

What are you about? Up, let not work's wearmess 

beat you, nor slacken with sleep so you forget my pain. 

Scold your own heart and hurt it, as it well deserves, 135 

for this is disciplme's spur upon her own. Let go 

upon this man the stormblasts of your bloodshot breath, 

wither him in your wind, after him, hunt him down 

once more, and shrivel him in your vitals' heat and flame. 

(The ghost disappears, and the Chorus waken and, as they 

waken, speak severally.) 

« 139 » 



Waken. You are awake, wake her, as I did you. 

You dream still? On your feet and kick your sleep aside. 

Let us see whether this morning-song means vanity 

(Here they begin to hotvl. 

Sisters, we have had wrong done us. 
When I have undergone so much and all in vain. 
Suffermg, suffermg, bitter, oh shame shame, 
unendurable wrong. 

The hunted beast has sUpped clean from our nets and gone 
Sleep won me, and I lost my capture. 

Shame, son of Zeus! Robber is all you are. 

A young god, you have ridden down powers gray with age, 

taken the suppliant, though a godless man, who hurt 

the mother who gave him birth. 

Yourself a god, you stole the matricide away. 

Where m this act shall any man say there is right' 

The accusation came upon me from my dreams, 

and hit me, as with goad m the mid-grip of his fist 

the charioteer strikes, 

but deep, beneath lobe and heart. 

The executioner's cutting whip is mme to feel 

and the weight of pam is big, heavy to bear. 

Such are the actions of the younger gods. These hold 

by unconditional force, beyond all right, a throne 

that runs reeking blood, 

blood at the feet, blood at the head. 

The very stone centre of earth here in our eyes horrible 

with blood and curse stands plain to see. 

Himself divine, he has spoiled his secret shrme's 
hearth with the stain, driven and hallooed the action on. 
He made man's way cross the place of the ways of god 
and bhghted age-old distributions of power, 

< 140 » 


He has wounded me, but he shall not get this man away. 
Let him hide under the ground, he shall never go free. 
Cursed suppliant, he shall feel agamst his head 
another murderer rising out of the same seed. 

{Apollo enters again from his sanctuary.) 


Get out, I tell you, go and leave this house. Away 

m haste, from your presence set the mantic chamber free, 

else you may feel the flash and bite of a flymg snake 

launched from the twisted thong of gold that spans my bow 

to make you in your pam spew out the black and foammg 

blood of men, vomit the clots sucked from their vems 

This house is no right place for such as you to chng 

upon; but where, by judgment given, heads are lopped 

and eyes gouged out, throats cut, and by the spoil of sex 

the glory of young boys is defeated, where mutilation 

lives, and stonmg, and the long moan of tortured men 

spiked underneath the spme and stuck on pales. Listen 

to how the gods spit out the manner of that feast 

your loves lean to The whole cast of your shape is guide 

to what you are, the like of whom should hole in the cave 

of the blood-reekmg lion, not in oracular 

interiors, like mme nearby, wipe off your filth. 

Out then, you flock of goats without a herdsman, smce 

no god has such affection as to tend this brood. 


My lord Apollo, it is your turn to hsten now. 
Your own part m this is more than accessory. 
You are the one who did it; all the guilt is yours. 


So? How? Continue speakmg, until I understand. 

You gave this outlander the word to kill his mother. 

« 141 » 



The word to exact price for his father. What of that' 

You then dared take him in, fresh from his bloodletting. 

Yes, and I told him to take refuge m this house 

You are abusive then to those who sped him here? 

Yes. It was not for you to come near this house, 

and yet 

we have our duty. It was to do what we have done. 

An ofEce? You? Sound forth your glorious privilege. 

This: to drive matricides out of their houses. 


what if It be the woman and she kills her man? 

Such murder would not be the sheddmg of kmdred blood. 

You have made into a thmg of no account, no place, 
the sworn faith of Zeus and of Hera, lady 
of consummations, and Cypris by such argument 
IS thrown away, outlawed, and yet the sweetest things 
m man's life come from her, for married love between 
man and woman is bigger than oaths, guarded by right 
of nature. If when such kill each other you relent 
so as not to take vengeance nor eye them m virath, 

« 142 » 


then I deny your manhunt of Orestes goes 
with right. I see that one cause moves you to strong rage 
but on the other clearly you are unmoved to act. 
Pallas divine shall review the pleadmgs of this case. 


Nothing will ever make me let that man go free. 

Keep after him then, and make more trouble for yourselves. 

Do not try to dock my privilege by argument. 

I would not take your privilege if you gave it me. 

No, for you are called great beside the throne of Zeus 
already, but the motherblood drives me, and I go 
to win my right upon this man and hunt him down. 


But I shall give the suppliant help and rescue, for 
if I willingly fail him who turns to me for aid, 
his wrath, before gods and men, is a fearful thmg. 

(They go out, separately. The scene is now Athens, on the 
Acropolis before the temple and statue of Athene. 
Orestes enters and takes suppliant posture 
at the feet of the statue.) 


My lady Athene, it is at Loxias* behest 

I come. Then take in of your grace the wanderer 

who comes, no suppliant, not unwashed of hand, but one 

blunted at last, and worn and battered on the outland 

habitations and the beaten ways of men. 

Crossing the dry land and the sea alike, keeping 

the ordinances of Apollo's oracle 

« 143 » 


I come, goddess, before your statue and your house 
to keep watch here and wait the issue of my tnal. 

{The Chorus enter severally, looking for Orestes.) 


So. Here the man has left a clear trail behind; keep on, 
keep on, as the unspeaking accuser tells us, by 
whose sense, like hounds after a bleeding fawn, we trad 
our quarry by the splash and dnp of blood. And now 
my lungs are blown with abundant and with wearisome 
work, mankilling. My range has been the entire extent 
of land, and, flown unwinged across the open water, 
I am here, and give way to no ship in my pursuit. 
Our man has gone to cover somewhere in this place. 
The welcome smell of human blood has told me so. 

Look agam, look again, 
search everywhere, let 
not the matricide 
steal away and escape. 

{They see Orestes.) 

See there! He chngs to defence 

agam, his arms winding the immortal goddess' 

image, so tries to be quit out of our hands. 

It shall not be. His mother's blood spilled on the ground 

can not come back again. 

It IS all soaked and drained into the ground and gone. 

You must give back for her blood from the living man 

red blood of your body to suck, and from your own 

I could feed, with bitter-swallowed drench, 

turn your strength limp while yet you live and drag you down 

where you must pay for the pain of the murdered mother, 

and watch the rest of the mortals stained with violence 

against god or guest 

or hurt parents who were close and dear, 

each with the pain upon him that his crime deserves. 

Hades is great. Hades calls men to reckoning 

« 144 » 


there under the ground, 

sees all, and cuts it deep in his recording mind. 


I have been beaten and been taught, I understand 

the many rules of absolution, where it is right 

to speak and where be silent. In this action now 

speech has been ordered by my teacher, who is wise. 

The stain of blood dulls now and fades upon my hand. 

My blot of matricide is being washed away. 

When it was fresh still, at the hearth of the god, Phoebus, 

this was absolved and driven out by sacrifice 

of swine, and the list were long if I went back to tell 

of all I met who were not hurt by bemg with me. 

Time in his aging overtakes all things alike. 

Now It is from pure mouth and with good auspices 

I call upon Athene, queen of this land, to come 

and rescue me She, without work of her spear, shall win 

myself and all my land and all the Argive host 

to stand her staunch companion for the rest of time. 

Whether now ranging somewhere in the Libyan land 

beside her father's crossing and by Triton's run 

of waters she sets upright or enshrouded foot 

rescuing there her friends, or on the Phlegraean flat 

like some bold man of armies sweeps with eyes the scene, 

let her co&ie! She is a god and hears me far away. 

So may she set me free from what is at my back. 


Neither Apollo nor Athene's strength must win 
you free, save you from gomg down forgotten, without 
knowmg where joy lies anywhere inside your heart, 
blood drained, chewed dry by the powers of death, a wraith, a 

You will not speak to answer, spew my challenge away? 
You are consecrate to me and fattened for my feast. 

« 145 » 


and you shall feed me while you live, not cut down first 305 
at the altar. Hear the spell I sing to bind you in 

Come then, link we our choral. Ours 

to show forth the power 

and terror of our music, declare 

our rights of office, how we conspire 3x0 
to steer men's lives/ 

We hold we are straight and just. If a man 
can spread his hands and show they are clean, 
no wrath of ours shall lurk for him. 

Unscathed he walks through his life nme. 315 

But one hke this man before us, with stained 

hidden hands, and the guilt upon him, 

shall find us beside him, as witnesses 

of the truth, and we show clear in the end 

to avenge the blood of the murdered. 320 

Mother, o my mother night, who gave me 
birth, to be a vengeance on the seeing 
and the blind, hear me. For Leto's 
youngling takes my right away, 

stealmg from my clutch the prey 325 
that crouches, whose blood would wipe 
at last the motherblood away. 

Over the beast doomed to the fire 
this IS the chant, scatter of wits, 

frenzy and fear, hurtmg the heart, 330 

song of the Furies 

bmding brain and bHghting blood 

in Its stringless melody. 

This the purpose that the all-mvolving 

destiny spun, to be ours and to be shaken 335 
never: when mortals assume outrage 
of own hand m violence, 
these we dog, till one goes 

« 146 » 


under earth Nor does death 
set them altogether free 

Over the beast doomed to the fire 
this IS the chant, scatter of wits, 
frenzy and fear, hurting the heart, 
song of the Furies 
binding brain and bhghtmg blood 
in its stringless melody 

When we were born such lots were assigned for our keeping. 

So the immortals must hold hands off, nor is there 350 

one who shall sit at our feasting 

For sheer white robes I have no right and no portion. 

I have chosen overthrow 

of houses, where the Battlegod 355 
grown withm strikes near and dear 
down So we swoop upon this man 
here. He is strong, but we wear him down 
for the blood that is still wet on him. 

Here we stand in our haste to wrench from all others 360 
these devisings, make the gods clear of our counsels 
so that even appeal comes 

not to them, since Zeus has ruled our blood dripping company 365 
outcast, nor will deal with us. 

I have chosen overthrow 

of houses, where the Battlegod 

grown withm strikes near and dear 

down So we swoop upon this man 

here He is strong, but we wear him down 

for the blood that is still wet on him. 

Men's illusions m their pride under the sky melt 
down, and are diminished into the ground, gone 

before the onset of our black robes, pulsing 370 
of our vindictive feet against them. 

« 147 X, 


For With a long leap from high 
above and dead drop of weight 
I bring foot's force crashing down 
to cut the legs from under even 
the runner, and spill him to rum. 

He falls, and does not know in the daze of his folly. 
Such m the dark of man is the mist of infection 
that hovers, and moanmg rumor tells how his house lies 
under fog that glooms above. 

For with a long leap from high 
above, and dead drop of weight, 
I bring foot's force crashmg down 
to cut the legs from under even 
the runner, and spill him to ruin 

All holds. For we are strong and skilled; 

we have authority; we hold 

memory of evil; we are stem 

nor can men's pleadings bend us We 

dnve through our duties, spurned, outcast 

from gods, driven apart to stand m light 

not of the sun. So sheer with rock are ways 

for those who see, as upon those whose eyes are lost. 

Is there a man who does not fear 

this, does not shrink to hear 

how my place has been ordamed, 

granted and given by destiny 

and god, absolute? Privilege 

primeval yet is mme, nor am I without place 

though it be underneath the ground 

and in no sunlight and m gloom that I must stand. 

{Athene enters, in full 


From far away I heard the outcry of your call. 

It was beside Scamandrus. I was taking seisin 

of land, for there the Achaean lords of war and first 

< 148 » 


fighters gave me large portion of all their spears 

had won, the land root and stock to be mine for all 

eternity, for the sons of Theseus a choice gift. 

From there, sped on my weariless feet, I came, wingless 

but in the rush and speed of the aegis fold. And now 

I see upon this land a novel company 

which, though it brings no terror to my eyes, brings still 

wonder. Who are you' I address you all ahke, 

both you, the stranger kneeling at my image here, 

and you, who are like no seed ever begotten, not 

seen ever by the gods as goddesses, nor yet 

stamped m the likenesses of any human form. 

But no. This is the place of the just. Its rights forbid 

even the innocent to speak evil of his mates. 


Daughter of Zeus, you shall hear all compressed to brief 
measure We are the gloomy children of the night. 
Curses they call us in our homes beneath the ground. 


I know your race, then, and the names by which you are called. 

You shall be told of our position presendy. 

I can know that, if one will give me a clear account. 

Wc drive from home those who have shed the blood of men. 

Where is the place, then, where the killer's flight shall end? 

A place where happiness is nevermore allowed. 

Is he one? Do you blast him to this kmd of flight? 

« 149 » 



Yes He murdered his mother by dehberate choice 

By random force, or was it fear of someone's wrath? 

Where is the spur to justify man's matricide? 

Here are two sides, and only half the argument 

He IS unwilling to give or to accept an oath. 

You wish to be called righteous rather than act right 

No. How so? Out of the riches of your wit, explain. 

I say, wrong must not win by technicalities. 

Examine him then yourself Decide it, and be fair. 

You would turn over authority in this case to me? 

By all means. Your father's degree, and yours, deserve as much. 

Your turn, stranger. What will you say in answer? Speak, 

tell me your country and your birth, what has befallen 

you, then defend yourself against the anger of these; 

if it was confidence in the right that made you sit 

to keep this image near my hearth, a supplicant 

in the tradition of baon, sacrosanct. 

Give me an answer which is plain to understand. 

« 150 » 



Lady Athene, first I will take the difficult thought 

away that lies in these last words you spoke. I am 

no supphcant, nor was it because I had a stain 445 

upon my hand that I sat at your image. I 

will give you a strong proof that what I say is true. 

It IS the law that the man of the bloody hand must speak 

no word until, by action of one who can cleanse, 

blood from a young victim has washed his blood away. 450 

Long smce, at the homes of others, I have been absolved 

thus, both by running waters and by victims slain. 

I count this scruple now out of the way. Learn next 
with no delay where I am from. I am of Argos 

and it is to my honor that you ask the name 455 

of my father, Agamemnon, lord of seafarers, 

and your companion when you made the Trojan city 

of flium no city any more. He died 

without honor when he came home. It was my mother 

of the dark heart, who entangled him in subtle gyves 460 

and cut him down. The bath is witness to his death. 

I was an exile in the time before this. I came back 

and killed the woman who gave me birth. I plead guilty. 

My father was dear, and this was vengeance for his blood. 

Apollo shares responsibility for this. 465 

He countcjspurred my heart and told me of pains to come 

if I should fail to act agamst the guilty ones. 

This is my case. Decide if it be nght or wrong. 

I am in your hands. Where my fate falls, I shall accept 


The matter is too big for any mortal man 470 

who thinks he can judge it. Even I have not the right 

to analyse cases of murder where wrath's edge 

is sharp, and all the more since you have come, and clung 

a clean and innocent supplicant, against my doors. 

You bring no harm to my city. I respect your rights. 475 

« 151 » 


Yet these, too, have their work. We cannot brush them aside, 

and if this action so runs that they fad to win, 

the venom of their resolution will return 

to infect the soil, and sicken all my land to death. 

Here is dilemma. Whether I let them stay or drive 

them off, it is a hard course and will hurt. Then, since 

the burden of the case is here, and rests on me, 

I shall select judges of manslaughter, and swear 

them in, estabhsh a court mto all time to come. 

Litigants, call your witnesses, have ready your proofs 

as evidence under bond to keep this case secure. 

I will pick the finest of my citizens, and come 

back They shall swear to make no judgment that is not 

just, and make clear where m this action the truth lies. 



Here is overthrow of all 

the young laws, if the claim 

of this matricide shall stand 

good, his crime be sustamed. 

Should this be, every man will find a way 

to act at his own caprice; 

over and over again in time 

to come, parents shall await 

the deathstroke at their children's hands. 

We arc the Angry Ones. But we 

shall watch no more over works 

of men, and so act We shall 

let loose indiscnmmate death. 

Man shall learn from man's lot, forejudge 

the evils of his neighbor's case, 

see respite and windfall in storm: 

pathetic prophet who consoles 

with strengthless cures, in vain. 

« 152 > 


Nevermore let one who feels 
the stroke of accident, uplift 

his voice and make outcry, thus: 510 
"Oh Justice! 

Throned powers of the Furies, help'" 
Such might be the pitiful cry 
of some father, of the stricken 

mother, their appeal. Now 515 
the House of Justice has collapsed. 

There are times when fear is good. 
It must keep its watchful place 
at the heart's controls. There is 

advantage 520 
in the wisdom won from pain. 
Should the city, should the man 
rear a heart that nowhere goes 
in fear, how shall such a one 

any more respect the right? 525 

Refuse the life of anarchy; 
refuse the life devoted to 
one master. 

The in-between has the power 

by God's grant always, though 530 

his ordinances vary. 

I will spealcin defence 

of reason: for the very child 

of vanity is violence; 

but out of health 535 
in the heart issues the beloved 
and the longed-for, prosperity. 

All for all I say to you: 
bow before the altar of right 

You shall not 540 
eye advantage, and heel 
it over with foot of force. 

« 153 » 


Vengeance will be upon you 
The all is bigger than you. 
Let man see this and take 
care, to mother and father, 
and to the guest 

in the gates welcomed, give all rights 
that befall their position. 

The man who does right, free-willed, without constraint 

shall not lose happiness 

nor be wiped out with all his generation. 

But the transgressor, I tell you, the bold man 

who brings in confusion of goods unnghtly won, 

at long last and perforce, when ship toils 

under tempest must strike his sail 

in the wreck of his riggmg. 

He calls on those who hear not, caught inside 

the hard wrestle of water. 

The spirit laughs at the hot hearted man, 

the man who said "never to me," watches hun 

pinned in distress, unable to run free of the crests. 

He had good luck in his life. Now 

he smashes it on the reef of Right 

and drovms, unwept and forgotten. 

(Athene re-enters, guiding twelve citizens chosen as Jurors 
and attended hy a herald Other citizens fillouf.) 


Herald, make proclamation and hold in the host 
assembled. Let the stabbmg voice of the Etruscan 
trumpet, blown to the full with mortal wmd, crash out 
its high call to all the assembled populace 
For in the fillmg of this senatorial ground 
it IS best for all the city to be silent and learn 
the measures I have laid down into the rest of time. 
So too these htigants, that their case be fairly tried. 

(Trumpet call. All take their places. Enter Apollo.) 

' 154 » 



My lord Apollo, rule within your own domain. 
What in this matter has to do with you? Declare. 


I come to testify. This man, by observed law, 

came to me as suppliant, took his place by hearth and hall, 

and it was I who cleaned him of the stain of blood 

I have also come to help him win his case I bear 

responsibility for his mother's murder. 

{To Athene.) 


who know the rules, initiate the trial. Preside. 
Athene (to the Furies) 

I declare the trial opened Yours is the first word 
For It must justly be the pursuer who speaks first 
and opens the case, and makes plain what the action is. 


We are many, but we shall cut it short. You, then, 
word against word answer our charges one by one. 
Say first, did you kill your mother or did you not' 


Yes, I killed her. There shall be no denial of that 

There are three falls in the match and one has gone to us. 

So you say. But you have not even thrown your man. 

So. Then how did you kill her? You are bound to say. 

I do. With drawn sword m my hand I cut her throat. 

By whose persuasion and advice did you do this? 

. 155 " 



By order of this god, here So he testifies. 

The Prophet guided you into this matricide? 

Yes. I have never complained of this. I do not now. 

When sentence seizes you, you will talk a different way. 

I have no fear. My father will aid me from the grave. 

Kill your mother, then put trust in a corpse! Trust on. 

Yes. She was dirtied twice over with disgrace. 

Tell me how, and explain it to the judges here. 

She murdered her husband, and thereby my father too. 

Of this stain, death has set her free. But you still live. 

When she lived, why did you not descend and drive her out' 

The man she killed was not of blood congenital. 

But am I then involved with my mother by blood-bond? 

Murderer, yes. How else could she have nursed you beneath 
her heart? Do you forswear your mother's intimate blood? 

« 156 » 



Yours to bear witness now, Apollo, and expound 

the case for me, if I was right to cut her down. 6io 

I will not deny I did this thing, because I did 

do it. But was the bloodshed right or not? Decide 

and answer. As you answer, I shall state my case. 


To you, established by Athene in your power, 

I shall speak justly I am a prophet, I shall not 615 

he Never, for man, woman, nor city, from my throne 

of prophecy have I spoken a word, except 

that which Zeus, father of Olympians, might command. 

This is justice. Recognize then how great its strength. 

I tell you, follow our father's will. For not even 620 

the oath that bmds you is more strong than Zeus is strong. 


Then Zeus, as you say, authorized the oracle 

to this Orestes, stating he could wreak the death 

of his father on his mother, and it would have no force? 


It is not the same thing for a man of blood to die 625 

honored with the kmg's staff given by the hand of god, 

and that by means of a woman, not with the far cast 

of fierce arrows, as an Amazon might have done, 

but in a way that you shall hear, o Pallas and you 

who sit m state to judge this action by your vote. 630 

He had come home from his campaigning. He had done 

better than worse, in the eyes of a fair j'udge. She lay 

in wait for him. It was the bath When he was at 

Its edge, she hooded the robe on him, and in the blind 

and complex toils tangled her man, and chopped him down. 635 

There is the story of the death of a great man, 
solemn in all men's sight, lord of the host of ships. 

« 157 » 


I have called the woman what she was, so that the people 
whose duty it is to try this case may be inflamed. 


Zeus, by your story, gives first place to the father's death. 640 
Yet Zeus himself shackled elder Cronus, his own 
father. Is this not contradiction? I testify, 
judges, that this is being said in your hearing. 


You foul animals, from whom the gods turn in disgust, 

Zeus could undo shackles, such hurt can be made good, 645 

and there is every kmd of way to get out But once 

the dust has drained down all a man's blood, once the man 

has died, there is no raising of him up again. 

This is a thing for which my father never made 

curative spells. All other states, without effort 650 
of hard breath, he can completely rearrange. 


See what it means to force acquittal of this man. 

He has spilled his mother's blood upon the ground. Shall he 

then be at home in Argos in his father's house? 

What altars of the community shall he use? Is there 655 
a brotherhood's lustration that will let him in' 


I will tell you, and I will answer correctly. Watch. 
The mother is no parent of that which is called 
her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed 

that grows. The parent is he who mounts. A stranger she 660 

preserves a stranger's seed, if no god interfere. 

I will show you proof of what I have explained. There can 

be a father without any mother. There she stands, 

the hving witoess, daughter of Olympian Zeus, 

she who was never fostered in the dark of the womb 665 
yet such a child as no goddess could brmg to birth. 
In all else, Pallas, as I best may understand, 

« 158 » 


I shall make great your city and its populace. 

So I have brought this man to sit beside the hearth 

of your house, to be your true friend for the rest of time, 670 

so you shall wm him, goddess, to fight by your side, 

and among men to come this shall stand a strong bond 

that his and your own people's children shall be friends. 


Shall I assume that enough has now been said, and tell 

the judges to render what they believe a true verdict? 675 


Every arrow we had has been shot now. We wait 
on their decision, to see how the case has gone. 


So then. How shall I act correctly in your eyes? 

You have heard what you have heard, and as you cast your votes, 

good friends, respect in your hearts the oath that you have sworn. 680 


If it please you, men of Attica, hear my decree 
now, on this first case of bloodletting I have judged. 
For Aegeus' population, this forevermore 
shall be the ground where justices dehberate. 

Here is the Hill of Ares, here the Amazons 685 

encamped and built their shelters when they came in arms 

for spite of Theseus, here they piled their rival towers 

to rise, new city, and dare his city long ago, 

and slew their beasts for Ares. So this rock is named 

from then the Hill of Ares. Here the reverence 690 

of citizens, their fear and kindred do-no-wrong 

shall hold by day and in the blessing of night alike 

all while the people do not muddy their own laws 

with foul infusions. But if bright water you stam 

with mud, you nevermore will find it fit to drink. 695 

« 159 » 


No anarchy, no rule of a single master. Thus 

I advise my citizens to govern and to grace, 

and not to cast fear utterly from your city. What 

man who fears nothmg at all is ever righteous' Such 

be your just terrors, and you may deserve and have 

salvation for your citadel, your land's defence, 

such as is novs^here else found among men, neither 

among the Scythians, nor the land that Pelops held. 

I establish this tribunal It shall be untouched 

by money-making, grave but quick to wrath, watchful 

to protect those who sleep, a sentry on the land. 

These words I have unreeled are for my citizens, 
advice into the future All must stand upright 
now, take each man his ballot in his hand, think on 
his oath, and make his judgment. For my word is said. 


I give you counsel by no means to disregard 

this company. We can be a weight to crush your land. 


I speak too. I command you to fear, and not 
make void the yield of oracles from Zeus and me. 


You honor bloody actions where you have no right. 
The oracles you give shall be no longer clean. 


My father's purposes are twisted then. For he 
was appealed to by Ixion, the first murderer. 


Talk! But for my part, if I do not win the case, 
I shall come back to this land and it will feel my weight. 

Neither among the elder nor the younger gods 
have you consideration. I shall win this suit. 

c i6o > 



Such was your action in the house of Pheres. Then 
you beguiled the Fates to let mortals go free from death. 


Is It not right to do well by the man who shows 
you worship, and above all when he stands in need? 


You won the ancient goddesses over with wine 
and so destroyed the orders of an elder time. 


You shall not wm the issue of this suit, but shaE 
be made to void your poison to no enemy's hurt. 


Smce you, a young god, would ride down my elder age, 
I must stay here and hsten to how the trial goes, 
bemg yet uncertain to loose my anger on the state. 


It is my task to render final judgment here. 

This is a ballot for Orestes I shall cast. 

There is no mother anywhere who gave me birth, 

and, but for marriage, I am always for the male 

with all nay heart, and strongly on my father's side. 

So, m a case where the wife has killed her husband, lord 

of the house, her death shall not mean most to me. And if 

the other votes are even, then Orestes wms. 

You of the jurymen who have this duty assigned, 

shake out the ballots from the vessels, with all speed. 


Phoebus Apollo, what will the decision be? 

Darkness of night, our mother, arc you here to watch? 

« i6l > 



This IS the end for me. The noose, or else the hght. 

Here our destruction, or our high duties confirmed. 

Shake out the votes accurately, Athenian friends. 

Be careful as you pick them up. Make no mistake. 

In the lapse of judgment great disaster comes. The cast 750 

of a single ballot has restored a house entire 


The man before us has escaped the charge of blood. 
The ballots are in equal number for each side. 


Pallas Athene, you have kept my house alive. 

When I had lost the land of my fathers you gave me 755 
a place to live. Among the Hellenes they shall say: 
"A man of Argos lives again in the estates 
of his father, all by grace of Pallas Athene, and 
Apollo, and with them the all-ordaining god 

the Savior" — who remembers my father's death, who looked 760 
upon my mother's advocates, and rescues me. 
I shall go home now, but before I go I swear 
to this your country and to this your multitude 
of people into all the bigness of time to be, 

that never man who holds the helm of my state shall come 765 

against your country in the ordered strength of spears, 

but though I lie then in my grave, I still shall wreak 

helpless bad luck and misadventure upon all 

who stride across the oath that I have sworn: their ways 

disconsolate make, their crossings full of evil 770 

augury, so they shall be sorry that they moved. 

But while they keep the upright way, and hold in high 

regard the city of Pallas, and ahgn their spears 

to fight beside her, I shall be their gracious spirit. 

« 1(52 » 


And SO farewell, you and your city's populace. 

May you outwrestle and overthrow all those who come 

against you, to your safety and your spears' success. 

{Exit. Exit also Apollo.) 


Gods of the younger generation, you have ridden down 
the laws of the elder time, torn them out of my hands. 
I, disinherited, suffering, heavy with anger 
shall let loose on the land 
the vindictive poison 

dripping deadly out of my heart upon the ground; 

this from itself shall breed 

cancer, the leafless, the barren 

to strike, for the right, their low lands 

and drag its smear of mortal infection on the ground. 

What shall I do' Afflicted 

I am mocked by these people. 

I have borne what can not 

be borne. Great the sorrows and the dishonor upon 
the sad daughters of night. 


Listen to me. I would not have you be so grieved. 

For you have not been beaten. This was the result 

of a fair ballot which was even. You were not 

dishonored, but the luminous evidence of Zeus 

was there, and he who spoke the oracle was he 

who ordered Orestes so to act and not be hurt. 

Do not be angry any longer with this land 

nor bring the bulk of your hatred down on it, do not 

render it barren of fruit, nor spill the dripping rain 

of death in fierce and jagged lines to eat the seeds. 

In complete honesty I promise you a place 

of your own, deep hidden under ground that is yours by right 

where you shall sit on shining chairs beside the hearth 

to accept devotions oSered by your citizens. 

« 163 » 



Gods of the younger generation, you have ridden down 

the laws of the elder time, torn them out of my hands. 

I, disinherited, suffering, heavy -with anger 8io 

shall let loose on the land 

the vindictive poison 

dripping deadly out of my heart upon the ground, 
this from itself shall breed 

cancer, the leafless, the barren 815 

to strike, for the right, their low lands 

and drag its smear of mortal infection on the ground. 

What shall I do' Afflicted 

I am mocked by these people. 

I have borne what can not 820 
be borne Great the sorrow and the dishonor upon 
the sad daughters of night 


No, not dishonored. You are goddesses. Do not 

in too much anger make this place of mortal men 825 

uninhabitable. I have Zeus behind me Do 

we need to speak of that' I am the only god 

who know the keys to where his thunderbolts are locked. 

We do not need such, do we' Be reasonable 

and do not from a reckless mouth cast on the land 830 
spells that will ruin every thing which might bear fruit. 
No. Put to sleep the bitter strength in the black wave 
and live with me and share my pride of worship. Here 
is a big land, and from it you shall win first fruits 

in offerings for children and the marriage rite 835 
for always. Then you will say my argument was good. 


That they could treat me so ! 

I, the mind of the past, to be driven under the ground 
out cast, like dirt! 

The wind I breathe is fury and utter hate. 840 

« 164 » 


Earth, ah, earth 

what IS this agony that crawls under my ribs' 
Night, hear me, o Night, 

mother. They have wiped me out g^s 

and the hard hands of the gods 

and their treacheries have taken my old rights away. 


I will bear your angers You are elder born than I 
and in that you are wiser far than I Yet still 

Zeus gave me too intelligence not to be despised. 850 

If you go away into some land of foreigners, 

I warn you, you will come to love this country. Time 

in his forward flood shall ever grow more dignified 

for the people of this city And you, m your place 

of eminence beside Erechtheus m his house 855 

shall wm from female and from male processionals 

more than all lands of men beside could ever give. 

Only m this place that I haunt do not inflict 

your bloody stimulus to twist the inward hearts 

of young men, raging in a fury not of wine, 860 

nor, as if pluckmg the heart from fighting cocks, 

engraft among my cztZ2ens that spint of war 

that turns their battle fury inward on themselves 

No, let our wars range outward hard against the man 

who has ^llen horribly in love with high renown. 865 

No true fighter I call the bird that fights at home. 

Such life I offer you, and it is yours to take 

Do good, receive good, and be honored as the good 

are honored. Share our country, the beloved of god. 


That they could treat me so ! 870 
I, the mind of the past, to be driven under the ground 
out cast, like dirt! 

The wind I breathe is fury and utter hate. 
Earth, ah, earth 

« 165 » 


what is this agony that crawls under my ribs? 

Night, hear me, o Night, 

mother. They have wiped me out 

and the hard hands of the gods 

and their treacheries have taken my old rights away. 


I will not weary of telling you all the good things 
I ofler, so that you can never say that you, 
an elder god, were driven unfriended from the land 
by me m my youth, and by my mortal citizens. 
But if you hold Persuasion has her sacred place 
of worship, in the sweet beguilement of my voice, 
then you might stay with us. But if you wish to stay 
then It would not be justice to inflict your rage 
upon this city, your resentment or bad luck 
to armies Yours the baron's portion in this land 
if you will, in all justice, with full privilege. 


Lady Athene, what is this place you say is mine? 

A place free of all grief and pam. Take it for yours. 

If I do take it, shall I have some definite powers' 

No household shall be prosperous without your will. 

You virill do this? You will really let me be so strong? 

So we shall straighten the lives of all who worship us. 

You guarantee such honor for the rest of time? 

« i66 » 



I have no need to promise what I can not do 

I think you will have your way with mc My hate is going 90c 

Stay here, then. You will win the hearts of others, too 

I will put a spell upon the land. What shall it be' 

Something that has no traffic with evil success 

Let It come out of the ground, out of the sea's water, 

and from the high air make the waft of gentle gales 905 

wash over the country in full sunlight, and the seed 

and stream of the soil's yield and of the grazing beasts 

be strong and never fail our people as time goes, 

and make the human seed be kept alive. Make more 

the issue of those who worship more your ways, for as pio 

the gardener works in love, so love I best of all 

the unblighted generation of these upright men. 

All such IS yours for granting In the speech and show 

and pride of battle, I myself shall not endure 

this city's eclipse in the estimation of mankind 915 

I accept this home at Athene's side. 

I shall not forget the cause 

of this city, which Zeus all powerful and Ares 

rule, stronghold of divinities, 

glory of Hellene gods, their guarded altar. 920 
So with forecast of good 
I speak this prayer for them 

that the sun's bright magnificence shall break out wave 

on wave of all the happiness 9^5 

life can give, across their land 

« 167 » 



Here are my actions In all good will 
toward these citizens I establish in power 
spirits who are large, difficult to soften. 

To them is given the handling entire 930 

of men's lives That man 

who has not felt the weight of their hands 

takes the strokes of life, knows not whence, not why, 

for crimes wreaked in past generations 

drag him before these powers Loud his voice 93 5 

but the silent doom 

hates hard, and breaks him to dust. 


Let there blow no wind that wrecks the trees 
I pronounce words of grace. 

Nor blaze of heat blind the blossoms of grown plants, nor 940 
cross the circles of its right 

place Let no barren deadly sickness creep and kill. 
Flocks fatten. Earth be kind 

to them, with double fold of fruit 945 
in time appointed for its yieldmg Secret child 
of earth, her hidden wealth, bestow 
blessing and surprise of gods. 


Strong guard of our city, hear you these 

and what they portend? Fury is a high queen 950 
of strength even among the immortal gods 
and the undergods, and for humankind 
their work is accomplished, absolute, clear, 
for some, singing; for some, life dimmed 

in tears; theirs the disposition. 955 

Death of manhood cut down 
before its prime I forbid: 

ct 168 » 


girls' grace and glory find 

men to live life with them 

Grant, you who have the power 

And o, steering spirits of law, 

goddesses of destiny, 

sisters from my mother, hear, 

m all houses implicate, 

in all time heavy of hand 

on whom your just arrest befalls, 

august among goddesses, bestow 


It is my glory to hear how these 

are given my land. I admire the eyes 

of Persuasion, who guided the speech of my mouth 

toward these, when they were reluctant and wild. 

Zeus, who guides men's speech m councils, was too 

strong, and my ambition 

for good wins out in the whole issue. 


This my prayer Civil War 

fattening on men's ruin shall 

not thunder m our city. Let 

not the dry dust that drmks 

the black iblood of citizens 

through passion for revenge 

and bloodshed for bloodshed 

be given our state to prey upon. 

Let them render grace for grace. 

Let love be their common will; 

let them hate with single heart. 

Much wrong in the world thereby is healed. 


Are they taking thought to discover that road 
where speech goes straight? 

« 169 » 


Ib the terror upon the faces of these 990 

I see great good for our citizens. 

While with good will you hold in high honor 

these spirits, their will shall be good, as you steer 

your city, your land 

on an upright course clear through to the end 995 

Farewell, farewell. High destiny shall be yours 
by right Farewell, citizens 
seated near the throne of Zeus, 
beloved by the maiden he loves, 

civilized as years go by, 1000 
sheltered under Athene's wings, 
grand even in her father's sight. 


Goddesses, farewell. Mine to lead, as these 
attend us, to where 

by the sacred light new chambers are given. 1005 

Go then Sped by majestic sacrifice 

from these, plunge beneath the ground. There hold 

off what might hurt the land, pour in 

the city's advantage, success in the end. 

You, children of Cranaus, you who keep loio 

the citadel, guide these guests of the state. 

For good things given, 

your hearts' desire be for good to return. 


Farewell and again farewell, words spoken twice over, 

all who by this citadel, 1015 

mortal men, spirits divine, 

hold the city of Pallas, grace 

this my guestship in your land. 

Life will give you no regrets. 1020 

« 170 » 



Well said. I assent to all the burden of your prayers, 
and by the light of flaring torches now attend 
your passage to the deep and subterranean hold, 
as by us walk those women whose high privilege 

It IS to guard my image. Flower of all the land 1025 
of Theseus, let them issue now, grave companies, 
maidens, wives, elder women, in processional. 
In the investiture of purple stained robes 
dignify them, and let the torchhght go before 

so that the kindly company of these within 1030 
our ground may shine in the future of strong men to come 

Chorus (by the women who have been forming for processional) 
Home, home, o high, o aspiring 

Daughters of Night, aged children, in blithe processional 

Bless them, all here, with silence. 1035 

In the primeval dark of earth-hollows 

held in high veneration with rights sacrificial 

bless them, all people, with silence 

Gracious be, wish what the land wishes, 1040 
follow, grave goddesses, flushed in the flamesprung 
torchlight gay on your journey. 
Singing all follow our footsteps. 

There shsjl be peace forever between these people 

of Pallas and their guests. Zeus the all seeing 1045 

met with Destiny to confirm it. 

Singing all follow our footsteps. 

(Exeunt omnes, in procession ) 

« 171 


Translated and with an Introduction by 


It had always been thought by modern scholars that The Suppliant 
Maidens was the earhest Greek play still preserved, and the date of 
Its production was given as circa 490 B C. This opinion was based on 
stylistic considerations as well as on the fact that the protagonist of the 
play IS the chorus itself which Aristotle tells us to have been the early 
condition of the drama. A papyrus recently pubkshed, however, 
would seem to suggest that the trilogy, of which The Suppliant 
Maidens is the first part, was first produced after 470 b c. Should 
this prove to be the case, it will be a real puzzle why Aeschylus kept 
the play in his drawer for twenty years, for it is hardly likely that 
he should have reverted to the archaism of The Suppliant Maidens 
after having written The Persians 

The plot of the play is simple. The fifty daughters of Danaus, 
descendants of the Argive lo, flee from Egypt to Argos because their 
Egyptian cousins wish, without their consent, to marry them They 
come to a sacred grove near Argos, where the rest of the action takes 
place. Pelasgus, the King of Argos, is unwilling to grant them 
sanctuary unless the populace seconds his request, and the populace, 
convinced by the king and their own father, does grant it But it is 
not a moment too soon; for after the maidens hear they are saved, 
their fether informs them that the Egyptian cousins are just landing, 
and while he goes to bring aid, a herald of their cousins comes to 
take them away. Pelasgus, however, returns with an armed force, 
and the herald, threatening war, is forced to withdraw Then Danaus 
returns again, counseling them to behave -decently, and the play 
ends with a song of dehverance. Since the second and third parts of 
the trilogy are lost, and only a few scattered notices of the plot remain, 
we cannot be certain what Aeschylus' purpose was In the second 
play the maidens were somehow forced to marry their cousins (per- 

« 174 » 


haps because Pelasgus dies), but they swear to their father to kill 
them on their wedding night. All except Hypermnestra fulfil their 
oath, while she — "splendide mendax," Horace calls her — out of love 
for her husband saves him In the last play Hypermnestra is forced 
to stand trial because she violated her oath, and m a scene reminiscent 
of that in the Eumemdes, Aphrodite herself appears and defends her 
Part of her speech survives* 

As the sacred heaven longs to pierce the earth. 

So love takes hold of earth to join m marriage, 

And showers, fallen from heaven brought to bed. 

Make the earth pregnant, and she m turn gives birth 

To flocks of sheep and Ceres' nourishment — 

A marriage that drenches the spnngtime of the woods — 

For all this I am m part responsible 

The Suppliant Maidens is an international play The Danaids are 
refugees, Greeks by descent, Egyptians in appearance (11 234-37, 
277-90, 496 fF), and according to Egyptian law they have no legal 
right to refuse to marry their cousins For when Pelasgus wishes to 
know what right they have, the maidens in reply only declare their 
hatred of their cousins, implying by their evasion of the question 
the absence of any legal claim to his protection (11 387-91) Thus 
both by nature and by law they are defenseless If they really looked 
like Greeks, as well as were Greeks by an obscure genealogy, and if 
they had some legal justification, Pelasgus might have been willing 
to take up their defense without the consent of the people, but once 
It becomes a case of pure or natural justice independent of all legal- 
ity, with the maidens' arbitrary dislike of their cousins their only 
motive, Pelasgus must defer to the will of the people Since the 
maidens insist upon the rights of the will alone, Pelasgus allows in 
turn the people's will to sanction it and make it law In the second 
play the oath of the Danaids becomes law, and Hypermnestra, in 
violating it, repeats her sisters' original defiance of Egyptian law; 
but as on this occasion it is not a human law that she has betrayed, 
a goddess must justify her conduct Aphrodite insists upon the pre- 
rogatives of love, a force that transcends even the sacredness of 

« 175 » 


oaths. Thus the trilogy is complete. At first the Egyptians embodied 
law, though strangely enough lust also supported them, while the 
Danaids represented a freedom that was not bound by any positive 
enactments. But once this freedom has been approved by law, 
Hypermnestra alone remains outside it, and as she cannot be de- 
fended merely by a democratic procedure, a universal divine law, 
more authoritative than even the people's will, must rescue her. 
Having only the first part of the trilogy, we cannot be confident 
that Aeschylus' purpose was exactly this, but the claims of the city 
as opposed to claims still more powerful would seem to underlie 
the play, claims that at each stage become more contrary to one an- 
other and more difficult to resolve. 

The Suppliant Maidens as a play is not very exciting, and we can 
easily see why the chorus was later abandoned as the protagonist 
A chorus can convey only a lyncal mood, it can hardly support any 
genuine passion, ^he Danaids, for example, say they are frightened 
when the Egyptians are coming, but we do not believe them 
their songs, divided into strophe and antistrophe, * betray their de- 
tachment, and they always talk more like commentators on their 
actions than hke the actors themselves. Although the choruses of 
The Suppliant Maidens are some of the most beautiflil Aeschylus 
ever wrote, the dialogue seems extremely artificial and forced, with 
the air of set speeches directed more to the audience than to the 
other actors. The Persians, on the other hand, suffers from the oppo- 
site fault: the speeches, even though long, are dramatic, while the 
choral songs are fer inferior to those of The Suppliants Ornj m the 
Oresteia did Aeschylus achieve a perfect balance between them. 

* Throughout this play and The Persians, strophes and antistrophes are marked 
by the symbols — and = respectively. 

« 176 » 



Chorus of maidens, daughters of Danaus 

Danaus, their father 

Pelasgus, King of Argos 

Herald of Egyptians, cousins to the Danaans 


Scene A sacred grove near Argos, adorned with statues of Greek gods. 

Zeus Protector, protect us with care 
From the subtle sand of the Nile delta 
Our ship set sail And we deserted: 
From a holy precinct bordering Syria 
We fled into exile, condemned 
Not for murder by a city's decree. 
But by self-imposed banishment escaping 
Impious marriage with Egyptus' sons. 

Danaus, father, adviser and lord. 
Setting the counters of hope. 
Picked the smallest pawn of grief 
Quickly to fly through the sea, 
And find anchor at Argos, 
Whence we boast to descend, 
By the breathing caress of Zeus 
On a cow driven wild 

With suppliant ohve branch, 

To what kinder land could we turn'' 

Whose aty, whose earth and bright water, 
Olympian gods, ancient gods below 
Possessing the tomb, and Zeus Savior, 
Keeper of pious men, receive 
(Respectful the air of this land) 
These supphant maidens well 

But that thick swarm of insolent men. 
Before ever landing in this swamp waste, 
Return them and their ship to the sea; 

« 179 » 


And by the winter sting of hurncane, 
Facing the wild sea, by thunder and hghtning, 
By ram-winds may they die; 
Before appropriating what law protects, 
Cousins to he on unwilling beds. 

Now I mvoke 

The calf of Zeus Avenger 

Beyond the sea: 

A child from grazing 

Cow, genetrix, 

Held by the breath of Zeus, 

Bom with a &teful name: 

Epaphus, Caress.— 

Him I mvoke: 
In pastures here our mother 
Suffered before: 
I'll show a witoess 
Faithfial but unex- 
pected to natives here. 
They shall know the truth 
At last and at length. = 

And if some neighbor here knows bird cries, 
Hearmg our bitter passion he will think 
He hears the hawk-chased, sad bird Metis, 
The wife of Tereus,— 

Who weeps with passion 
Barred from nvers and the countryside; 
Who sang a child's death-dirge, whom she killed, 
Perverse her wrath. = 

Thus melancholy I 
With loman songs 
Eat my Nile-soft cheek. 
My heart unused to tears. 
We gather blooms of sorrow, 

« i8o » 


Anxious if a friend, 
Someone, will protect us, 
Exiles from a misty land — 

But gods ancestral, hear ! 
Behold justice kindly. 
Truly hating pride 

Grant nothing undecreed 80 
So just you'd be to marriage 
Even war has havens. 
Bulwark for the weary 
Exile, a respect of gods = 

May his will, if it's Zeus's, be well. 
His will not easily traced. 
Everywhere it gleams, even in blackness. 
With black fortune to man — 

And so certain it falls without slips, 90 

By sign of Zeus fulfilled 

Dark are the devices of his counsel, 

His ways blind to our sight = 

From towered hopes 

He casts men destructive. 

No violence 

He armors. 

All providence 

Is effortless- throned. 

Holy and motionless. 

His will is accomplished — 100 

On mortal pride 

Look down, how it waxes 

And flourishes 

By marriage 


Intent m its firenzy, 

« 181 » 


Spur inescapable, 
Deceived to destruction = 

I sing suffering, shrieking. 

Shrill and sad am weeping, 

My hfe is dirges 

And rich in lamentations. 

Mine honor weeping. 

I mvoke your Apian land, 
You know my foreign tongue 
Often I tear my Sidonian veils — 

We grant gods oblations 

Where all is splendid 

And death is absent 

O toils undecipherable' 

Where lead these billows'' 
I mvoke your Apian land. 
You know my foreign tongue 
Often I tear my Sidonian veils = 

Linen-bound ship, secure from the sea, 

With fair winds brought me; 

Nor do I blame. 

May Father, timely omniscient. 

Perfect a gracious end, that 

Seeds mighty of solemn mother 

Escape, O woe, 

Unwed, virgin to the bed of man — 

Daughter of Zeus pure, may she behold, 

Who guards walls sacred, 

Willing my will. 

May virgin, rescuing virgins. 

In all her power come, that 

Seeds mighty of solemn mother 

Escape, alas. 

Unwed, virgin to the bed of man. = 

« 1 82 » 


But if not, 
A sunburnt race 
Shall go beseeching 
To Zeus of the dead 
(Gracious to strangers), 
Hanging ourselves. 

If Gods Olympian heed not. i6o 

0 Zeus' Sought out by the gods, 
By snake-hate of lo 

1 know Hera's madness 
Conquering all 

Winter comes by sharp winds — 

Then Zeus in 
Injustice hates 
His son begotten, 

And that is unjust. 170 

Face now averted 

Away from my prayers. 

But would that Zeus hearken' 

0 Zeus ' Sought out by the gods, 
By snake-hate of lo 

1 know Hera's madness 
Conquering all. 

Winter comes by sharp winds. = 

Prudence, my daughters, prudently you came 
With an aged father as your trusted pilot 
And now, with foresight, I advise your taking 
Care to seal my words withm your mmd. 

I see dust, the silent clarion of arms, 180 
But not m silence are the axles turned; 
Crowds I see, armed with shield and spear. 
Followed by horses and curved chariots 
Perhaps the princes of this land have come 

« 183 » 


To meet us, informed by messenger; 
But whether kindly purposed or provoked 
To savageness they speed their armament, 
Here it is best to act the supphant, 
This rock, this altar of assembled gods, 
Stronger than ramparts, a shield impenetrable 
Now quickly prepare white suppliant wreaths. 
Sign of Zeus sacred, held in the left hand, 
Mournful, respectful, answer needfully 
■ f The strangers, tell distinctly of an exile 
Unstained by murder,' Let no boldness 
Come from respectful eye and modest features 
Not talkative nor a laggard be in speech. 
Either would offend them Remember to yield: 
You are an exile, a needy stranger, 
And rashness never suits the weaker 


With prudence, father, you speak to the prudent. 
I shall keep a watch on your discreet commands. 
May Zeus, my ancestor, look on us. 

May he look then with propitious eye. 

Now would I wish to be near your side. 

Delay not. 

O Zeus, compassion ere we die. 


If Zeus IS willing, this will end well. 
And now that bird of Zeus invoke. 

Preserving rays of the sun we call. 

« 184 » 



Call on Apollo, the god, who from heaven once fled. 

So knowing this fate, may he have compassion. 

Let him be compassionate, defend us with care 

What other gods must I invoke' 

I see 

This trident, a god's symbol. 

Who brought us 
Here well- may he receive us now well. 

And that is Hermes, by Hellenic custom. 220 

May he be a good herald to those who are free. 

All gods here at a common altar worship. 
Settle on the sacred ground like doves 
Clustering together, fearing the winged hawks. 
Who hateiully pollute their very blood 
Bird consumes bird, how could it be pure' 
'How, unwilling brides, myself unwilling. 
Could they be pure' Who not even in hell, 

Where another Zeus among the dead (they say) 230 
Works out their final punishment, can flee 
Their guilt of lus^''Fix your eye on that 
In answer, that victory be with you well 

[Enter the King of Argos and company ) 


Whence come these barbarians? 

What shall we call you? So outlandishly 

« 185 » 


Arrayed in the barbaric luxury 
Of robes and crowns, and not in Argive fashion 
Nor in Greek'' But at this I wonder how 
Without a herald, without a guide, without patron, 
You have yet dared to come, without trembhng 
The suppliant olive branch before these gods 
You've placed (it is custom), but Greece no more 
Than that will guess, in other things I could 
Conjecture only, unless your voice will guide 


You did not he about our dress But to whom 
Do I speak' an Argive citizen, or a herald 
With his sacred staff, or the city's head' 


Answer me with trusf I am Pelasgus, 

Founder of this land, and son of Palaechthon 

Earth-born Pelasgians bear my royal name, 

And^eap the fruits of this earth I rule the lands 

In which the pure Strymon turns, where the sun 

Sinks in the west, and limits the Perrhaebi, 

Beyond the Pmdus, near the Paeoni 

And the mountain Dodona oceans bound my rule 

I lord It over all within that frarne 

It IS called Apia, after a surgeon 

Of ancient times, the prophet Apis, son 

To Apollo, who from Naupactus once did come. 

And cleansed this land of deadly, monstrous 

Serpents, that the earth, soaked in old 

Curses of blood, had sprung and smeared in v^Trath 

His remedies and herbs did work a cure 

For Argos, and he found a monument 

In Argive htanies There are my testaments. 

And now you can tell your own ancestry. 

We have no patience with long speeches. 

« i86 » 



Brief and clear is my tale Argos we claim 
By race, the offspring of a fruitful cow. 


You speak beyond my credence, strangers, claiming 

Argive birth more like Libyans you seem 

Than like to women native here; or the Nile may foster 

Such a likeness, or the images 

Of Cyprus, carved by native craftsmen, 

And of the camel-backed nomads I've heard. 

Neighbors to the Ethiopian, 

I should have thought you were the unwed 

Barbarous Amazons, were you armed with bows 

But I, instructed, would more exactly know, 

How your birth and ancestry is Argive 


Wasn't lo once m Argos charged 
With Hera's temple' 

lo was, the tale 

Is prevalent 

And wasn't Zeus to a mortal 


Which was from Hera unconcealed 


How ends these royal jealousies' 

A goddess 

Changed a woman to a cow. 

And Zeus, 
Did he approach the horned cow? 

« 187 » 




Became a bull, they say. 

How then did Hera answer' 


She placed on her a guard, all-seemg. 



Argos, a son of Earth, whom Hermes slew 

But what did Hera appoint for ill-omened lo? 

A gnatlike goad it was, or driving stmg. 

That the Nile-dwellers call the gadfly. 

That drove her from Argos. 

It confirms my tale. 310 


And so to Canobus and to Memphis she came. 

Where Zeus by touch begot a son. 

Who claims to be the calf of Zeus' 


Truly named Caress. 

And who from him? 


Libya, reaping the greatest name. 

« 188 » 



And then' 


Belus of two sons, my father's father 

Tell me his name 

Danaus, whose brother 

Fathered fifty sons 

Disclose his name 


Egyptus Now knowing my ancient 
Lineage, might you succor an Argive band 

You seem to share of old this land but how 
Did you bring yourself to leave your father's 
Home' What fortune did swoop upon you' 

Lord Pelasgus, shifting are the ills of men 
Nowhere is trouble seen of the same wmg 
Who wished for this unexpected flight. 
To land at Argos, formerly natives here, 
Cowering m hate of the marriage bed' 


Why have you come to these assembled gods' 
Why do you hold the fresh white ohve branch? 


To be no household-slave to Egyptus' sons. 

By hatred or by law' . . . 

« 189 » 



who buys a master 

From km' 

So greater grows the strength of mortals. 


To desert those distressed is easy 


With piety could I act' 

Deny the demand 

Of Egyptus' sons 

But hard's your demand to wage 

A new war. 

But justice protects her allies. 


If only she shared from the start 

Respect the ship of state thus crowned. 

I shudder before these shaded altars 

Yet hard is the wrath of Zeus the protector. 

Son of Palaechthon, 

Listen to me with a caring heart. 

Lord of Pelasgians. 

Protector, behold an exile surrounded 
A calf, wolf-pursued, on steep rocks, 
Confides in the herdsman's strength, 
And bleats her pains — 

X 190 » 



I see this crowd of gods assenting, each 
Shadowed by the fresh-cut olive branch 
Yet may this friendship conceal no doom, 
Nor strife for us arise in unexpected 
And unpremeditated ways 


Daughter of Zeus, 

Master of lots, may behold a flight 

Innocent, Themis! 

And thou from the younger, ancient m wisdom, 
Learn, . . 

Respecting the supphant, 
A holy man. = 


You are not suppliants at my own hearth. 
If the city stains the commonweal, 
In common let the people work a cure 
But I would make no promises until 
I share with all the citizens 


You are, yes, the city, the people, 

A pnnce is not judged. 

The land, the hearth, the altar you rule 

With the «mgle vote and scepter, 

Enthroned you command, 

And fill every need 

Of pollution be watchful — 


Pollution on my enemies ' Without 
Harm I cannot aid you; nor is it sensible 
To despise these your earnest prayers. 
I am at a loss, and fearful is my heart, 
To act or not to act and choose success 

« 191 » 



Regard him, above, the protector, 
A watchdog of men 

Distressed who sit at neighboring hearths, 
But obtam no lawful justice. 
Yet anger of Zeus 
The Suppliant remams, 
Who IS charmed by no pity = 

If Egyptus' sons rule you by customs 
Native to your city, claiming nearest 
Of kin, who would wish in that to oppose them'' 
Accordmg to laws at home you must plead, 
How over you they lack authority. 

Yet subject to men would I never be! 
I plot a course under the stars, 
Escape from a heartless marriage. 
Take as an ally justice. 
Choose the side of the gods ■ 

The choice is not easy choose me not as judge. 
I said before that never would I act 
Alone, apart from the people, though I am ruler; 
So never may people say, if evil comes, 
"Respectmg ahens the city you destroyed." 

Both sides of related blood he sees, 
Zeus holds a sensitive balance. 
To evil and the righteous weighing 
Just and unjust Burly. 
Why fear to act j'ustly''= 

We need profound, preservmg care, that plunges 

« 192 » 


Like a diver deep in troubled seas, 

Keen and unblurred his eye, to make the end 

Without disaster for us and for the city, 

That neither strife may bring reprisals, nor, 

If we should give you back, seated thus 

On seats of gods, we settle the god, destructive 

Alastor, in this land, who even in Hades 

Never frees the dead Seem we not 

To need preserving counsel' 


Take care and be, 

Justly, the pious protector. 

Exile betray not. 

Exile pursued by, 

Cast out by, the godless — 

See me not seized. 

From seat of gods to be seized, 

0 lord with full power 
Know the pride of men. 
Beware of god's anger = 

Bear not to see 
A supphant by force 
Led from these statues. 
Seized by my garments. 
Like a h(?tse by the bridle.— 

Do what you will. 

Thy house remains to pay. 

Fined in thy children. 

Justice is equal. 

Mark the justice of Zeus = 


1 have pondered, and here I'm run aground: 
'Gainst you or them necessity is strained 

« 193 » 


For mighty war, as fastly drawn as ships 
Held by the windlass, yet anchorage is never 
Free from pain. When wealth is sacked and homes 
Are pillaged, Zeus yet another fortune may bestow; 
Or when the tongue has failed, a healing word 
May spread a counter-balm, but if consanguine 
Blood is to stay unshed, we must sacrifice 
To slaughter many kine to many gods, 
A cure of gnef I am spent by this dispute 
I wish an ignorance more than art of ill. 
Against my judgment may it turn out well. 


But hear the end of my reverent prayers. 


Clasps and belts and bands I have. 


They are doubtless proper for women. 

Here, you know, 

Are fine devices. 

Tell me. 


Unless you promise — 


What would your bands accomplish? 

Statues with new tablets to adorn. 

Speak simply. 


From these gods to hang. 

« 194 » 


A whip to the heart 


Now you understand, for eyes I gave you 

Alas ' everywhere I'm gripped m strangle holds, 

And like a swollen river evils flood 

Embarked on a sea of doom, uncrossed, abysmal, 

Nowhere is anchorage If I leave 

This debt unpaid, you've warned of pollution 

That shall strike unerringly, but if 

I stand before these walls, and bring the battle 

To the very end against Egyptus' 

Sons, wouldn't that become a bitter waste — 

Men to bleed the earth for women's sake' 

But yet the wrath of Zeus the Suppliant — 

The height of mortal fear — ^must be respected 

Now then, aged father of these maidens. 

Gather those wreaths m your arms, and at other 

Altars of the native gods replace them 

Then no one of the native people, who dehght 

In blame, by seeing proof of your arrival. 

Could reproach me, and pity they may feel 

For you, and hate those men's arrogance 

May the people be gracious' Everyone, 

To those Veaker than themselves, is kind.' 



To have found a stranger, reverent and kind. 

We highly prize And now, let native guides. 

To grant me safety as I go, escort me 

To the temple altars nature made 

My shape unlike to yours, even as the Nile 

And the Inachus bear no resemblance 

In their nurture Beware lest rashness burgeon 

Into fear ignorance has often killed 

A friend. 

« 195 » 



Attend, the stranger speaks well. 
Guide hun to the civil altars, the seats 
Of gods; and say no more than this to whom 
You meet "To the gods' hearth we bring a sailor " 

(Exit Danaus, attended ) 


Him you instructed, and he is gone, but I, 
How shall I act' What sign of confidence 
Is yours to give me' 

Leave your wreaths here, 

A sign of grief 

And here I leave them by your 


Toward that grove now turn 


But how 

Would a pubhc grove protect me? 


To rape of burds shall we expose you 

But to them more hateful than heartless snakes' 

Propitiated, speak auspiciously 

You know how fear does firet impatiently' 

Excessive fear is always powerless. ^ 

Soothe then my heart in word and deed. 

« 196 » 



Your father will not long desert you, and I, 
Assembling all the native people, shall 
Make the commons well disposed, and teach 
Your father all that he must say 
Now remain here, and beseech the native 
Gods with your prayers to bring what you desire 
I shall go arranging all may Persuasion 
And Fortune attend me ' 


Lord of Lords most bless'd, 
Most perfect strength of bless'd, 
Happy Zeus obey 
And let it be- 
Remove the pride of men, 
Pride well hated, 
And cast m a purpled sea 
The black-benched doom — 

Look upon our race 
Ancient of ancestor loved, 
Change to a happy tale 
Favoring us 

Remember many things, 
You touched lo 
We claim a descent from Zeus, 
And birth from this land = 

To my mother's ancient track I turned, 
In a rich pasture eating flowers 
She was seen, whence lo 54° 
By gadfly raged 
Distraught escaped. 
Passing many races, 
Cutting m two the land. 
The raging strait defined,— 


[Exit Ktng ) 


« 197 » 


Through lands of Asia fast she went, 
And across Phrygia grazing sheep, 
And the city of Teuthras passing. 
And Lydian vales, 
Cilician hills, 
Race Pamphylian hurried 
Through ever-flowing streams. 
And land of Aphrodite = 

She came by dart distressed 

Of a cowherd wmged 

To rich groves of Zeus, 

A pasture fed by snow and attacked 

By Typhon's rage. 

The Nile-waters by disease untouched, 

Herself crazed. 

With grief stinging pams, 

Bacchant of Hera — 

And men who then lived there 

At her strangeness trembled. 

With pale fear at heart. 

Beheld a creature vexed, half-breed. 

In part a cow, 

And woman m turn, a monster marveled at 

Who then charmed 

The wretch wandermg-far 

Furious Io' = 

Of endless sovereignty 
Lord Zeus charmed. 
By strength gentle of Zeus 
And divme breaths 
Was she cured, weeping 
Her grievous shame. 
Bearing the burden of Zeus, 
Told without falsehood. 
She bore a blameless child,— 

« 198 » 


Through great time bless'd, 
All earth shouts, 
"Of Zeus fruitful m truth 
This race who else 
Would cure her of sly 
Diseases of Hera'" 
There is the working of Zeus, 
Here is Epaphus' race 
Of both the truth is spoken = 

Whom beside him 590 

More justly would I call' 

Father our gardener, worker, and lord, 

A craftsman ag'd m wisdom, 

Propitious the wind is of Zeus — 

Stronger none rule, 

Beneath no one enthroned. 

Seated above he respects none below 

His deeds are quick as words, 

He hastens what counsel decrees = 

(Enter Danaus ) 


Take heart, my children, well are cast the people's 6cxi 
Final vote 


O hail, my envoy, my dearest 
Herald Tell us what end's been authorized' 
And where the populace, by show of hands. 
Has thrown its weight 


The Argives have decreed 
Not doubtfully, so as to change my aging 
Heart to youth again; so bristled thick 
The air with hands, resolving thus the law 
Free we are to settle here, subject 

« 199 » 


Neither to seizure nor reprisal, claimed 

Neither by citizen nor foreigner. 

But if they turn to force, whoever rich 

In lands refuses succor, shall be stripped 

Of offices and banished pubkcly 

The king persuaded, prophesying Zeus 

The Suppkant would fatten rich his wrath 

To feed insatiate suffering, 

And show itself as twin defilements, 

In and outside the city. Hearing this, 

The Argives, not even summoned, voted all. 

They heard, and easily were convinced by supple 

Rhetoric, but Zeus still crowned the end. | f 


Come then, let us offer 
For the Argives good prayers, 
A return for good things 
And may Zeus Stranger behold 
From the mouth of a stranger 
Offerings in true frankness, 
A perfect end for all things. 

And now Zeus-born gods 
Might you hear our prayers. 
When libations we pour: 
Never slain by fire 
This Pelasgian land, 
Never wanton War 
Found a danceless cry, 
Harvesting mortals 
In a changed harvest, 

For compassion they showed us, 

And voted with kindness. 

Respecting Zeus's suppliants, 

This wretched flock of sheep.— 

« 200 » 


Nor cast they their votes 

On the side of men 

By dishonoring us; 

Watching Zeus Avenger 

(Like a spy he sees) 

Who is hard to fight • 

Who desires his home 

Stained in its rafters? 

For he heavily presses 

The supphants of Zeus sacred, 
Related blood, they respected. 
Then to gods shall they be pleasing 
With altars scoured clean. = 


So out of shadowed hps let fly 
Honorable prayers. 
Never a plague 

Empty the city, 660 

Strife never bleed 

With native dead the land 

Flower of youth may it ripen unplucked, 

And partner of Aphrodite, War, 

May he cut not their bloom.— 

And laden altars, welcoming. 
Set them ablaze. 
Well woiild be ruled 

Cities respecting 670 

Zeus above all, 

Who guides by anaent law. 

Other protectors we pray to be born 

For always, and Hecate-Artemis 

Birth by women protect = 

Let no murderous plague 

Come upon the city destroying, 680 
Without the dance, without lute 

« 201 » 


Father of tears Ares armmg, 
And the intestine war's shout. 

May the bitter swarms of ill 

Far from the people sit, 

May the Lycian Apollo 

To all the youth be kind — 

And may Zeus to perfection 
Bring the fruit of each season; 
And many young in the fields 
Pasturmg cattle beget. 
May they obtain from gods all. 

May the pious songs be sung 

At altars by minstrels; 

May the lyre-loving voices 

From holy hps arise. = 

May the people who strengthen the city 

Protect Its digmty well, 

Whose rule's providential in common counsel; 

And before armmg Ares, 

To strangers without grief 

May they grant justice.— 

May the gods who possess the city 
Be honored by citizens well 
With sacrificial laurel, ancestral 
For respect of one's parents 
Is third among laws 
Written by Justice = 

Thank you, dear children, for these modest prayers; 

But from your fether tremble not to hear 

New inteUigence From this outpost, 

Protector of suppkants, I spy that ship; 

Clearly it shows; nor do I fail to mark 

How its sails are trimmed and sides made £st. 

« 202 » 


And how her bow does seek the way with painted 
Eye, and the ship, obedient, hears all too well 
Her tiller's governance And the men on board 
I see, black m hmb, their clothes white linen 
All the other ships and allied force 
I see, but under land the lead, its sail 
Now furling, rows with timed beat And you 
Must, quietly and temperately facing 
The event, ignore none of these gods. 
And I, with advocates, shall come Perhaps 
An envoy or a herald comes, desiring 
To lead you away as reprisals. 
But nothing shall happen Never fear him 
Still It IS better, if we are slow. 
That refuge to remember Take heart 
Surely in time the day shall come when all 
Who had dishonored the gods shall pay. 

Father, I fear, as swift ships come. 

No length of time does stand between us 

Terror has me, excessive fear. 

If flights of wandering profit not 

Father, I am spent by fear.— 

As final was the Argive vote, my daughters, 
Tal^ heart: they shall fight for you, I know 

Mad is the race Egyptian, cursed, 
In war unsated: I speak what you know. 
Dark ships they have, and strongly built; 
They sailed and so succeed in anger 
With an army large and dark. = 

But here many shall they find, whose hmbs 
The sun's made lean m noonday heat. 

<£ 203 » 



Leave us not behind, alone, father ' I pray 
Women are nothing alone, no Ares is in them 

Deadly purposed and crafty mmds 750 

With impure hearts, just as ravens, 

They heed no altar — 

Well that would aid us, my daughters. 
If to the gods, as to you, they are hateful 

They feared not these tridents, no awe of gods, 
Their hands they shall not keep from me, father 

Arrogant with unholy rage. 

Gluttonous, dog-hearted, obeying 

In nothing the gods = 

A fable tells that wolves possess more strength 760 
Than dogs, and reeds cannot conquer wheat 

We must guard ourselves against the rage 
Of wanton men, monstrous and profane 

The reefing of a sail is never swift. 

Nor is the anchoring, with ropes to be secured; 

And even safe at anchorage the helmsman 

Lacks courage, and mosdy when come to harborless 

Shores, and the sun has sneaked away to night, 

It breeds in prudent pilots pain as sharp 770 

As birth itself, nor would a host find landing 

Easy, before each ship takes courage m 

Her moorings But you, fearful at heart, take heed 

Of the gods, while I, bringing aid, shall return 

To defend you: an aged messenger the city 

Cannot blame, youthftil in eloquence. 

[Exit Danaus.) 

K 204 » 



0 mountainous land, justly respected. 
What shall befall us' Where shall we flee. 

If in Apian lands some dark abyss somewhere' 

Black smoke might I be 

Bordering clouds of Zeus, 

Invisible completely 

As unseen dust might I die — 

My heart without fright would no longer be; 
Darkness flutters in my heart 

1 am seized by his warnmgs: I am spent by fear. 
And willmg would I be 

Fated to die hanging. 

Before that man should touch me: 

May Hades rule me before ' = 

Where might there be a throne of air? 
Agamst It wet clouds become snow? 
Or smooth, steep, lonely, 
Overhangmg, distant, 
Vulture-haunted rocks, 
Witnessing my fall. 
Before by force meet 
A heart-rending marriage?— 

Prey then for dogs and native birds, 
A feast I shall not refuse them. 
For death grants freedom 
From lamentable ills 
Let that fete before 
My marriage-bed come 
But where is still means 
To free us from marriage? = 

Shriek and shout a cry to heaven, 
Perfect prayers to the gods, 
To me relief and fulfilment; 

« 205 » 


And Father, seeing the battle, 
Behold with just eyes 
Violence unkindly. 
Respect your supphants, 
Protector, omnipotent Zeus' — 

Proud and heartless Egyptians — 
Men pursuing an exile. 
Intent on capturmg me. 

With shouts many and wanton 820 

But you completely, 

Zeus, hold the beam of 

The balance. "What without you 

Is brought to completion for men?= 

(Enter Herald of Egyptians, attended ) 

Cry' O woe' Alas' 

Here, this ravisher from the ship ' 

Before that, ravisher, would you die ' 

I see this beginning of my woes. 830 
Alas' O woe' Escape' 
Stern-hearted in insolence, 
Hard to bear on land, at sea, 
Lord of the land, protect us' 


Hasten to the boats 
Fast as you are able 
Lest torn and pricked. 
Pricked and scratched you'll be, 

Bloody and bloodstained, 840 
Your heads cut off' 

Hurry, hasten, curses' curses' to the boats' 

On the flowing salt-path 
With your masterful pride 

206 » 


With your bolted ship 
Would you had died ' 


Cease your cries Leave your seats. 850 
Go to the ships. You without honor, 
You without city, I cannot respect.— 


Never fruitful water 
Might I see again, whence 
Grows the living root — 
Murder! — and blooms. 


I shall lead — I am brave — 

Down to the ship, up on the ladder 860 
Willing, unwilling, you shall go = 


Oh, alas, woe 

Oh, would that you had helpless died 
By the sea-washed grove 
Wandering at Sarpedon's tomb. 

Piled up with sand 870 
Among wet breezes 


Shriek ant^shout and call the gods. 
You shall not jump the Egyptian ship. 
Bewail and shout and mourn with sorrow — 


Oh, alas, woe 

Outrage ' when you howl ofP-shore, 
With your boasts overflow, 
Whom the great Nile might behold 

Ragmg m your pride, 880 
And drown your violence. 

« 207 » 



Board the swift boat at once ! 

Let no one falter: I'll have no awe 

Of precious curls when I shall drag you.= 


Alas, £ther, to the sea he leads me; 

Like a spider, step by step, 

A dream, a black dream, 

Cry, O woe, cry ' 

Earth, Mother Earth, 

Avert his fearful cry. 

0 son, son of Earth, O Zeus. 


1 do not fear these gods before me they 

Did not nurse me, their nursmg did not age me.— 


A two-footed serpent quivers near, 

Like a viper, bites my foot, 

A poisonous thing. 

Cry, O woe, ay! 

Earth, Mother Earth, 

Avert his fearful cry. 

O son, son of Earth, O Zeus. 


Your finery I shall not pity, if 
None will go to the ship resignedly = 


We perish, lord, we suffer pain ! 

O many lords, Egyptus' sons, you soon 

Will see — take heart! — and blame no anarchy' 


O first commanders, undone am I! 

« 208 » 



Methinks I shall resort to dragging you: 
My words you clearly have not hstened to. 

{Enter the King, attended ) 


You there' What is done' By what insolence 
Dare you insult this land of Pelasgian men? 
Think you you have come to a woman's land' You are 
Barbarians, and you trifle insolently 
With Greeks, and, off the mark in everything^ 
In nothing upright stand. 

How did I err? 
What do I do without justice' 

You know 

Not how to be a stranger. 

Though finding what I lost? 


To what patron did you speak? 

To Hermes the Searcher, 

The greatest patron. 

You speak of gods but have 

No reverence. 

The Nile deities I revere. 


And these gods are nothing' 

I'll lead them away. 

If no one prevents me. 

« 209 » 



You shall regret it. 

If you touch them. 

You speak unkindly to strangers 


The thieves of gods I shall not befriend. 


I shall tell Egyptus' sons. 


What's that to me that I should yield my flock? 

But if I knew, more clearly could I tell — 

A herald should report exacdy each 

ParUcular. What shall I say? And who 

Does rob me of these cousms? Yet war does give 

Its verdict without witnesses, nor in silver's 

Grip does it quit its suit, before many 

Are thrown and kick ofFhfe 


Why must you tell a name? 
In time you and your companions wdl know, 
Though, were these willing, with good will of heart. 
You could lead them away, if pious speech 
Persuaded them: thus unanimous the vote 
Decreed, never to surrender them to force 
Jomed, doweled, and bolted stays this law, 
That neither scratched on tablets, nor book-sealed, 
You hear announced by the tongue of freedom's voice. 
Now get out of my sight! 


We seem to wage new wars 
May victory and conquest fall to men! 

a 210 » 



And men is what you'll find here, who don't 
Guzzle a brew of barley-beer' 

{Extt Herald ) 

Now all of you, attended by your maids, 

Take heart and go to the well-protected city, 

Locked by towers in dense array And many 

Homes there are of pubhc property, and I 

Am also housed with a lavish hand, there you may 

With many others live, or if it pleases 

More, you may live alone Of these the best 

And most agreeable choose Myself and all 

The citizens protect you, whose voted will 

Is now fulfilled Why wait for those with more 



In return for good things. 
May good things teem. 
Best of Pelasgians ' 
Kindly escort my £ther here, 
Danaus, prudent, brave and wise 
His is the counsel where to dwell, 
Kindly disposed the place with good 
Fame and repute among the people 
Everyone's quick to blame the ahen. 
May It be for the best' 

(Exit Kmg Enter Damns, attended ) 


My children, to Argives it is meet to pour 
Libations, pray and sacrifice as to gods 
Olympian, who unhesitant preserved us 
What had been done, for native friends kindly, 
Bitterly agamst your cousins, they heard, 
And gave these armed attendants as a meed 
Of honor, that no spear-wielded fate be mine 

« 211 » 


Id dying, lest I burden on the land 

An ever-living gnef You must be grateful 

Even more than I for what I have obtained 990 

Above my other counsels cut this wisdom 

Time becomes the touchstone of the ahen, 

Who bears the brunt of every evil tongue, 

The easy targe of calumny. I beg 

You not to bring me shame, you who have 

That bloom which draws men's eyes- there is no simple 

Guard for fruit most dekcate, that beasts 

And men, both winged and footed, ravage' 1000 

So Venus heralds harvests lush with love. 

And all, at the sleek comeliness of maidens, 

Do shoot enchanted arrows from their eyes, 

Overcome by desire Let no shame for us. 

But pleasure for our enemies, be done. 

For which, m great toil, great seas were ploughed. 

We have the choice (mere luck) of living either 

With Pelasgus, or at the city's cost. loio 
Only regard this command of your father: 
Honor modesty more than your kfe. 

All else may gods Olympian bless; but, father. 
Be not anxious for our summer's blush, 
For, lest the gods dekberate anew, 
We'll hold to the course our past intent has set. 
Chorus A (of maidens) 
Come now to the city, 
Praising blessed lord gods. 
Who shelter the city 

And about the Erasmus dwell 1020 
Take up and accompany, 
Servants, the song, and praise 
For the aty, no longer the Nile, 
Respect with your psalms,— 

«c 212 » 


But Streams, that with quiet 
Through the land fuhiess pour, 
And gladden this earth with 

Waters brilhant and rich 1030 

May Artemis sacred see, 

Pitying us by force 

Of Aphrodite no marriage come, 

A prize for the hated = 

Chorus B (of servants) 

But careless not of Cypris this gracious song- 
With power equal to Hera nearest to Zeus, 
Honored the goddess sly-mtent 
In rites sacred and solemn; 
Which share with a fond mother 

Desire and, to whom no denial, 1040 

Persuasion; and Aphrodite 

A province to Concord bestowed, 

And Eros whispering wanton.— 

But bitter winds, and harsh and evil grief, 
And battles bloody and deadly I fear before. 
How did they sail so easily 
In swift-vraiged pursuit? 
'Whatever is doomed becomes. ' 
Infinite the mind is of Zeus, 

Who canwjt be bypassed. 1050 

To many a woman before 

Has marriage come as an ending. = 

Chorus A 

May great Zeus ward oft 

An Egyptian marriage for me. 

Chorus B 

That would be best. 
Chorus A 

Would you charm the intractable' 

213 » 


Chorus B 

But the future you know not — 

Chorus A 

But Zeus's mind profound, 

How am I to plumb' 
Chorus B 

Pray for the mean 
Chorus A 

What kmit do you teach me now? 
Chorus B 

Ask the gods nothmg excessive == 

Lord Zeus may he deprive us 

Of an ill marriage 

And a bad husband. 

As lo was released from ill, 

Protected by a healing hand. 

Kind might did cure her — 

And strength may he assign us. 

I am content if ill 

Is one-third my lot, 

And justly, with my prayers. 

Beside the saving arts of god, 

To follow justice. = 

« 2X4- ® 


Translated and with an Introduction by 


Lhe Persians was produced at Athens in 472 B.C., eight years after 
the naval battle at Salamis, which the play celebrates We learn 
from Its Argument that it was modeled on a lost play, The Phoenissae 
of Phrynichus, but that Phrynichus had announced at once the defeat 
of Xerxes, whereas Aeschylus presents a chorus of old men who 
voice their hopes and fears, by themselves and with Xerxes' mother, 
before the news of the defeat comes. This delay of course makes the 
Persians' defeat so much the greater, as it heightens the magnificence 
of their doom The Queen then invokes her dead husband Danus 
(at whose tomb the scene is laid), who had led an unsuccessful 
expedition against Greece ten years before. He consoles the Queen 
and Chorus but predicts another disaster at Plataea (479 b c.) Soon 
afterward, Xerxes, his garments torn, returns alone, and he and 
the Chorus conclude the play with a lament. 

The Persians is umque m several ways It is the only extant Greek 
tragedy that is not mythical but based on a contemporary event. 
The daring of such a presentation is easy to imagme To show 
sympathetically, sine ira et studio, on the stage at Athens the defeat of 
her deadhest enemy testifies to the humanity of Aeschylus and the 
Athemans No other tragedian we know of, of any count-y at any 
time, has ever dared to go so far m sympathizmg with his country's 
foe. It IS the more remarkable when we consider that Aeschylus 
himself and almost all of his audience fought at Salamis or Plataea 
and that the war, moreover, was between freedom and slavery. 
Here are the Persians, havmg started an unjust war and sufiermg a 
deserved defeat, presented not as crimmals but rather as great 
and noble, dying deaths that are to be as much pitied as the deaths of 
Athenians. To praise the Athenians at Athens, Socrates remarks, or 
the Spartans at Sparta is not very difficult, but to praise the Atheni- 

« 216 » 


ans at Sparta or the Spartans at Athens demands great rhetoncal 
skill, and for Aeschylus to praise before their conquerors the 
Persians, the enemies of all Greece, is without precedent and without 

Although The Persians is histoncal m substance, Aeschylus de- 
liberately introduced what the entire audience must have known to 
be false He makes up Persmi names, very few of which correspond 
to the generals we know to have been at the battle; his figures for 
the size of Xerxes' fleet at Salamis are greatly exaggerated; the 
Persians call upon Greek gods, though everyone knew that their 
gods were different, the Queen performs a Greek sacnfice at the 
tomb of Darius, neither the Chorus (except once) nor Danus men- 
tion the Persians' defeat at Marathon only ten years before; and per- 
haps what is most strikmg, Aeschylus invokes firom the past Darius, 
so that his presence, being both ghostly and real, might transform 
an ugly reahty into a poetic past. By thus changmg many details of 
the real story, Aeschylus removes the Persian War to the realm ot 
myth, where the memory of his audience is prevented from confirm- 
mg or denying at every point the truth of what he says. 

The contemporary is almost perforce untragic, for excessive at- 
tention to detail (and the contemporary must be shown accurately) 
stifles poetry and does not allow the poet to alter his subject; 
whereas tragedy, being abstracted from the present, is given a free 
rein, unhampered by what the audience knows to be so, to mold the 
story to its own demands. Just as verse is an abstraction from prose, 
reducing it to order, so tragedy abstracts from history and bnngs 
necessity out of chance. 

If Aeschylus addressed his play specifically to his Atheman coun- 
trymen, how can he also speak to us, who are not Athenians, across 
the reach of time? This certamly must be said. The Persian War was 
not merely one parochial war among others, in which the issues of 
right and wrong are ambiguous, as was the case in the Pelopon- 
nesian War. The Persian War was a war of hberty versus despotism, 
and all free men of all times in reading The Persians will identify 
their cause with the cause of the Greeks In this sense, then, we are 

« 217 


Athenians ourselves, and thus our sympathies and understanding 
become sufEciently enlarged to comprehend the merits of our foes 
Smce the doom of the Persians is impressed upon us by the regular 
meters of the chorus, which convey even to our ears the effect of 
marching or lament, I have tried, so far as Enghsh would allow, to 
reproduce them in such a way that the reader can "hear" the mood 
of each song. I hope that, after a httle practice on his part, the 
rhythm will become clear. 

« 218 » 



Chorus of Persian elders 

Queen of Persia, wfe of Darius, 
mother of Xerxes 

Persian Herald 

Ghost of Darius 



Scene In the background the palace of Xerxes at Sousa, m the center 
foreground the tomb of Darius. 


Of the Persians gone 

To the land of Greece 

Here are the trusted. 

As protectors of treasure 

And of golden thrones 

We were chosen by Xerxes — 

Emperor and king, 

Son of Darius — 

In accord with age 

Guards of the country. 

For the king's return 
With his troops of gold 

Doom IS the omen lo 

In my heart convulsed, 

As It whines for its master, 

For all AsS is gone: 

To the aty of Persians 

Neither a herald nor horseman returns. 

And some Agbatana 
And some Sousa and 
Anaent Kissa leaving. 
Both on horse and on ship 
And on foot displayed 

Legions of battle: 20 
Artaphrenes, Megabates, 
Astaspes, Amistres, 

« 221 » 


Leaders of Persians, kings, 

Who are slaves of the greatest of kings. 

Guarding the legions they rush, 

And as bowman and knight, 

With their temper resolved. 

Fearful in aspect. 

Dreadful m battle. 

And exultant in horses 
Artembares, Masistres, 
The brave archer Imaeus, 
And Pharandakas, 
And the driver of horses 

And others were sent 
By the flourishing Nile: 
Egyptian-born Sousiscanes, 
Pegastagon, great Arsames 
Ruler of sacred Memphis, 
And Ariomardus 
Governing ancient Thebes; 
And who dwelHng by marshes 
Are rowers of ships. 
Skilful and countless 

And the Lydians soft 
Who inhabit the coast 
Follow commanders and kings. 
Metrogathes and brave Arkteus, 
And golden Sardis send 
Many charioteers, 
Horses by threes and by fours, 
Fearful the sight to behold. 

And the neighbors of Tmolus — 
They threaten to yoke 

<£ 222 » 


In servitude Hellas, jo 

And the Mysian lancers, 

Tharybis, Mardon, 

Anvils of battle 

And golden Babylon 

Pours forth her crowds — 

Borne by their ships — 

Who in drawing the bbw 

Rely on their boldness. 

And the tribes from all Asia 

Who carry the sword 

Follow beneath the 

Awesome parade of their king. 

Thus of the Persian land 

Of her men the flower is gone. 

Nursed by the earth, and all Asia 60 
Laments, consumed by desire; 
And parents and wives 
Counting the days 
Tremble at lengthenmg time. 

The destroyer of cities now. 
That kingly army, has gone 
Over the strait to the land 
On linen-bound pontoons — 
Tightly was clamped the way — 

Helle of Athamas crossing, 70 
Yoking the neck of the sea.— 

And the furious leader the herd 
Of populous Asia he drives, 
Wonderful over the earth, 
And admirals stem and rough 
Marshals of men he trusts: 
Gold his descent from Perseus, 

He IS the equal of god = 80 

« 223 » 


In his eyes lazub flashing 
Like a snake's murderous glances, 
With his manners, warriors, many, 
And his Syrian chariot driving, 
Hard on the glorious spearmen 
The archer Ares he leads.— 

To the great torrent of heroes 
There is none worthily equal. 
Who resist, by defenses secured. 
The unconquerable billows of ocean: 
Persians are never defeated, 
The people tempered and brave. = 

For divine fate has prevailed since 
It enjoined Persians to wage wars. 
Which destroy towers and ramparts, 
And the glad tumult of horsemen. 
And aties overthrown.— 

When the vast ocean was foaming, 
By the winds boisterous whitened, 
Then they learned, trusting to cables 
And to pontoons which convey men, 
To scan the sacred sea. = 

Deceitful deception of god — 
What mortal man shall avoid it? 
With nimbleness, deftness, and speed. 
Whose leapmg foot shall escape it? 
Bemgn and coaxing at first 
It leads us astray mto nets which 
No mortal is able to skp. 
Whose doom we never can flee. 

Thus sable-clad my heart is torn. 
Fearful for those Persian arms. 

« 224 » 


Lest the city hear, alas ' 
That reft of men is Sousa,— 

And lest the city Kissa shall, 
When the crowds of women cry. 
Sing antiphonal, alas! 
And rend their garb of mourning. = 

All the horse and infantry 

Like a swarm of bees have gone 

With the captain of the host, 

Who joined the headlands of either land, 

Crossing the yoke of the sea.— 

Beds with longing fill with tears, 
Persian wives in softness weep; 
Each her armed furious lord 
Dismissed with gentle love and grief. 
Left all alone in the yoke.= 

But come, Persians, 

Let us in this ancient palace sit. 

And deep and wisely found our thoughts: 

How does King Xerxes fare, Darius' son. 

How fare his people? Has arrows' hail 

Or strength of spear conquered? 

But lo! she comes, 

A hght wBose splendor equals eyes of gods. 
The mother of our king, I kneel. 
Now all must address and salute her. 

O most majestic Queen of Persians 
In ample folds adorned. 
Hail, aged Xerxes' mother. 
Consort of Darius, hail! 
Mistress of the god of Persians, 
Mother of a god thou art, 

« 225 » 



(Enter Queen ) 


Unless the fortune of their arms 
Now at last has altered. 

Leaving my gold-clad palace, marriage- 
Chamber of Darius, and my own, 
His queen I'm come. Care quite grates my heart, 
I fear, my friends, though not fearful for myself. 
Lest great wealth's gallop trip prosperity — 
Exalted by Darius and some god — 
In Its own dust But, unexpectedly, 
That dread has doubled: sums of cowardly 
Wealth do court contempt, and indigence 
Quenches ambition's flame, even if there's strength 
Though wealth we have unstmted; yet fear 
Is for mine eye, Xerxes, whose presence here 
I count the palace-eye So thmgs stand thus. 
Advise my reason, Persians, old sureties: 
All my gains with your counsel he. 


0 Queen of Persia, be assured that never 
Twice hast thou to tell us word or deed, 
Which our vnlling strength can guide; for we 
Are loyal, whom thou dost call thy counselors. 


With frequent, constant, and nocturnal dreams 

1 have Lved, as soon as my son, gathering 
His host had gone, his will to pillage Greece; 
But never a more vivid presence came 
Than yestermght's. 

Two women as an apparition came. 
One m Persian robes instructed well, 
The other Done, both m splendor dressed, 
Who grand and most magmficent excelled 
Us now, their beauty unreproached, spotless; 

« 226 » 


Sisters they, who casting for their father's land, 

She Greece received, she Asia, where to dwell. 

Then strife arose between them, or so I dreamed, 

And my son, observing this, tries to check 

And soothe them, he yokes them to a chariot, 

Bridles their necks and one, so arrayed, towers 

Proud, her mouth obedient to reins; 

But the other stamps, annoyed, and rends apart 

Her trappings in her hands, unbridled, seizes 

The car and snaps its yoke in two. 

My son falls, and his father, pitying. 

Stands by his side, but at whose sight Xerxes 

Tears his robes Thus m the night these vision^ 

Dreamed, but when, arisen, I touched the springs' 

Fair-flowing waters, approached the altar, wishing 

To offer sacrifice religiously 

To guardian deities, whose rites these are. 

Then to Phoebus' hearth I saw an eagle fleeing 

Dumb in dread I stood, a falcon swooped 

Upon him, its wmgs m flight, its claws plucked 

At his head, he did no more than cower, hare-like 

Those were my terrors to see, and yours to hear. 

My son, should he succeed, would be admired. 

But if he fails, Persia cannot hold him 

To account Whichever comes, safe returned, sovereig 

He shall rule 


Queen mother, excessive fear 
Or confidence we do not wish to give thee. 
If thy dreams were ommous, approach 
The gods with suppkcations, pray that these 
Be unfulfilled, and blessings be fulfilled 
For thee, thy son, thy aty, and thy friends. 
Next thou must libations pour to Earth 

« 227 » 


And dead, and beg Darius, of whom thou didst dreai 
Send thee those blessings from the nether world 
To light, for thee and for thy son; and hide 
In darkness evils contrary, retained 
Within the earth. Propitious be thy prayers. 
We, prophetic in our spurit, kindly 
Counsel thee: all will prosper 

Ah, loyally have answ^ered the first expounders 
Of my dreams May these blessings ripen! 
And all, as you enjoin, I'll sacrifice 
To nether gods and friends, as soon as I 
Return. But one thing more I wish to know: 
My firiends, where is Athens said to be? 


Far toward the dying flames of sun 

Yet still my son lusts to track it down? 

Then all Hellas would be subject to the king. 

So rich in numbers are they? 

So great a host 
As dealt to Persians many woes 


Are bow-plucked shafts theu: armament? 

Pikes wielded-close and shielded panoplies. 

What else besides? Have they sufficing wealth? 

Theu: earth is vemed with silver treasuries. 

« 228 » 



Who commands them? Who is shepherd of their host'' 

They are slaves to none, nor are they subject. 

But how could they withstand a foreign foe? 

Enough to vanquish Darius' noble host. 

We mothers dread to calculate — 

But soon thou'lt know all- a Persian runner comes, 
Bearing some fresh report of weal or woe. 

{Enter Herald ) 


O cities of Asia, O Persian land. 
And wealth's great anchorage ' 

How at a single stroke prosperity's 2jo 

Corrupted, and the flower of Persia falls, 

And IS gone Alas! the first herald of woe, 

He must disclose entire what befell. 

Persians, all the barbarian host is gone 

O woe! woeful evil. 

Novel and hostile. 

Alas! Persians weep 

Hearing this woe,— 

How all has been destroyed, and I behold 260 
The unexpected light of my return. 


Oh long seems our aged 
Life to us elders. 

« 229 » 


Alas! hearing woe 
Unexpected. = 


And since I was witness, deaf to rumor's tales, 
I can indicate what sorrows came 


Woe upon woe, in vam 
The crowd of arrows, massed, 
Came on the hostile land — 


The hfeless rotting corpses glut the shore, 
And adjacent fields of Salamis 


Woe upon woe, of friends 
The sea-dyed corpses whirl 
Vagrant on cragged shores = 


The bow protected none, but all the host. 
Defeated in the naval charge, was lost. 


Raise a mournful, doleful cry 
For Persians wretched. 
All they made all woe 
Alas! the host destroyed.— 


O most hateful name of Salamis ' 

O woe! how I mourn recalling Athens. 


Athens hateful to her foes 
Recall how many 
Persians widowed vam. 
And mothers losing sons.= 

230 » 



Long am I silent, alas' struck down 

By disasters exceeding speech and question. 

Yet men perforce god-sent misfortunes must 

Endure Speak, disclose entire what 

Befell, quietly, though you grieve 

Who did not die? For whom of the captains 

Shall we lament' Whose sceptered death drained his ranks 



Xerxes hves to behold the light, but — 


O for my palace a greater hght, 
And after blackest night a whiter day. 


Artembares, captain often thousand 

Horse, was dashed against Silenia's 

Rugged shore, and satrap Dadakes, 

Spear-struck, did hghtly tumble from his ship; 

And native-born Tenagon, the bravest 

Bactnan, still haunts sea-buffeted 

Ajax' isle; and Lilaeus, Arsames, 

And Argestes, conquered near the island 

Where doves do thrive, beat a stubborn coast. 

And neigljbors of Egyptian Nile-waters, 

Adeues, Arkteus, and, third, shielded 

Pharnouchus, from a single ship 

Were drowned; and Matallus, satrap of Chrysa, 

Dying, leader of a thousand horse. 

Changed to richest red his thickset flowing 

Beard, and dipped his skm in crimson dyes; 

And Magian Arabus and Bactrian 

Artabes, all aliens in a savage 

Country, perished; Amphistreus, who wielded 

« 231 » 


The much-belaboring spear, and Amistris, 
Brave Ariomardus, all made Sardis weep; 
And Mysian Seisames, Tharybis, 
Commander of five tones fifty ships, 
His race Lymaean, feir to look upon 
(His fortune was not), dead he lies; 
And the leader of Cihcians single-handed 
Taxed the enemy vnth toil, and nobly 
Died. So many of the rulers I 
Recall, but of the many woes, report 
But few. 


Alas! I hear the greatest 
Of misfortunes, shame of Persians, and shrill 
Lament. But tell me, returning to your tale. 
What was the number of the Grecian ships. 
That thought themselves a match for Persian 
Arms in naval combat? 


Had numbers counted, 
The barbarian warships surely would have won; 
The Greeks but numbered thirty tens, and ten 
Apart from these a chosen squadron formed; 
But Xerxes, and this I know full well, a thousand 
Led; and seven and two hundred ranked 
As queens m swiftness. The count stood so 
Seemed we unequal? Some deity destroyed 
Our host, who weighing down the balance swung 
The beam of fortune. The gods saved the city 
Of the goddess. 


What? Athens still 
Stands unsacked? 

« 232 » 



As long as there are men 

The city stands 

What was the beginning 
Of disaster' Tell me. Who began' 
The Greeks? My son — exultant m his numbers? 


Either an avenger or a wicked 
God, my Lady (whence it came I know not), 
Began the whole disaster. From Athenian 
Ranks a Greek approached, addressing Xerxes 
Thus: "When the gloom of blackest night 
Will fall, the Greeks will not remain, but leap 
To rowing-bench, and each by secret course 
Will save his kfe." And he your son, upon 
His hearing this, in ignorance of Greek 
Gude and the jealousy of gods, 
Harangued his captains pubhcly: "As soon 
As sunlit rays no longer burn the earth. 
And darkness sweeps the quarters of the sky, 
Rank the swarm of ships m three flotillas. 
Guard they the entrances, the straits sea-pound, 
And girdle others round Ajax' isle; 
But if th% Greeks escape their evil doom. 
Contriving secret flight, all your heads 
WiU roll. I warrant it." So he spoke 
In humored pride: of the god-given future 
Nothing he knew. And, having supped, they set 
Themselves in order, each heart obedient; 
And sadors bound a thong about each oar. 
When the glare of surJight died, and night 
Came on, every man was at his oar. 
Every man at arms who knew them. 

« 233 » 


Rank encouraged rank, and long-boats sailed 380 

To stations each had been assigned. 

All night the captains kept the fleet awake; 

And night ran on No Grecian army set 

Secret sail but when the steeds of day, 

White and luminous, began to cross 

The sky, a song-like, happy tumult sounded 

From the Greeks, and island rocks returned 390 

The high-pitched echo Fear fell among us, 

Deceived in hope; for they (and not as if to flee) 

A solemn paean chanted, and to battle 

Rushed with fervent boldness* trumpets flared. 

Putting every Greek aflame At once 

Concordant strokes of oars m dissonance 

Slapped the waters' depths, soon we saw 

Them all: first the right wing led m order, 

Next advanced the whole armada; 400 

A great concerted cry we heard. "O Greek 

Sons, advance' Free your fathers' land. 

Free your sons, your wives, the sanctuaries 

Of paternal gods, the sepulchers 

Of ancestors Now the contest's drawn* 

All is at stake!" And babel Persian tongues 

Rose to meet it no longer would the action 

Loiter. Warships struck their brazen beaks 

Together: a Grecian man-of-war began 

The charge, a Phoenician ornamented stern 410 

Was smashed; another drove agamst another 

First the floods of Persians held the Ime, 

Bilt when the narrows choked them, and rescue hopeless. 

Smitten by prows, their bronze jaws gaping, 

Shattered entire was our fleet of oars 

The Greaan warships, calculating, dashed 

Round, and encircled us; ships showed their belly: 

No longer could we see the water, charged 

« 234 » 


With ships' wrecks and men's blood. 
Corpses glutted beaches and the rocks 
Every warship urged its own anarchic 
Rout, and all who survived that expedition, 
Like mackerel or some catch of fish. 
Were stunned and slaughtered, boned with broken 
And splintered wrecks' lamentations, cries 
Possessed the open sea, until the black 
Eye of evenmg, closing, hushed them The sum 
Of troubles, even if I should rehearse them 
For ten days, I could not exhaust Rest 
Content never in a smgle day 
So great a number died 

Alas ' a sea of troubles breaks in waves 
On the Persians and barbarian tribes 

But what we've told would scarcely balance woes 
Untold: misfortune came upon them, which 
Swung the beam to weigh them double these 
Quee n 

But what greater hatred could fortune show' 
What misfortune came upon the soldiers. 
Swinging the beam of troubles to greater woes'' 

All the Persians, who were in nature's prime, 
Excellent in soul, and nobly bred to grandeur, 
Always first m trust, met their death 
In m&my, dishonor, and m ughness. 


Oh, wretched am I, alas ' What doom 
Destroyed them? 

There is an island frontmg Salamis, 

« 235 X. 


Small, scarce an anchorage for ships, 

Where the dancer Pan rejoices on the shore; 

Whither Xerxes sent those men to kill 

The shipwrecked enemies who sought the island 

As a refuge (easily, he thought. 

The Grecian arms would be subdued); 

He also bid them rescue friends He conned 

The future ill. For when a god gave Greeks 

The glory, that very day, fenced in bronze, 

They leaped ashore, and drew the curcle tight 

At every poinf mewed up, we could not turn. 

Many rattled to the ground, whom stones 

Had felled, and arrows, shot by bowstring, 

Others killed; and in a final rush. 

The end: they hacked, mangled their wretched limbs. 

Until the hfe of all was gone 

Xerxes mourned, beholding the lowest depths 

Of woe, who, seated on a height that near 

The sea commanded all his host, his robes 

Destroying (and his lamentations shrill). 

Dispatched his regiments on land: they fled 

Orderless. Now you may lament their fate. 

Added to the others' summed before. 


O hateful deity! how the Persians 
You deceived! Bitter was the vengeance 
Which my son at &mous Athens found: 
She could not sate her appetite with those 
Whom Marathon had made the Persians lose 
For these my son, exacting as requital 
Pumshment (or so he thought) 
Called on himself so numerous 
A tram of woes. Tell me, what ships escaped? 
Where are they now? Can you clearly tell? 

236 » 



Who captained the remaining ships set sail 480 

Before the wind, fleeing in disorder, 

But the army perished in Boeotia: some. 

In want of precious water, were racked with thirst, 

And some, gasping emptily on air. 

Crossed to Phocis, Locria, the Mahan 

Gulf, where Spercheian waters kindly drench 

The plain, and thence Achaea and Thessaly 

Received us, wanting- there most died 490 

In hunger and in thirst: both we felt. 

To Magnesia and Macedonia we came, 

The River Axius, the reedy marsh 

Of Bolba, the mountain Pangaeon, 

And Thrace There in the night a god 

Roused winter out of season- all, who had 

Believed the gods were naught, sang their chants, 

To earth and sky obeisance made 

When we ceased invoking gods, we tried 500 

Waters that had turned to ice: 

WlsBwver started before Apollo's rays 

Spread and scattered in the sky, he 

Was saved. Soon the brilliant orb of sun. 

Its rays aflame, melts the river's midst 

One fells upon the next: happy he whose life 

Was first cut short! The rest did make their way 510 

But painfully through Thrace: not many fled 

To hearth and home. Thus the city of Persians 

May lament, regretting the loss of youth. 

Truthful I have been, but omit many 

Of the woes a god has hurled against 

The Persians. 

{Exit Herald.) 

« 237 » 



O toilsome deity' how heavily 
You leaped upon all Persia ' 

Alas ' woe is me, the host destroyed. 

0 bright mght's spectacle of dreams, 
How clearly you foresaw my woe, 

And you, my counselors, how poorly judged. 520 

But yet, as you counseled thus. 

First to the gods I'll offer prayer, and then 

To Earth and dead I'll come to offer gifts, 

A sacrificial cake. I know I pray 

For what is done and gone, but a brighter 

Fortune, in time to come, may there be 

And you, worthy of trust, exchange worthy counsel; 

My son, should he return before my own 

Return, comfort and escort him home. 

1 fear to woes he'll add more woe 530 

(Exit Queen ) 


O ! royal Zeus destroyed 

The multitudinous, proud 

Host of the Persian men. 

And the cities of Sousa 

And of Agbatana 

Concealed m the darkness of grief. 

Many with dehcate hands 
Rending their veils, 
Drenching their breasts, 
Swollen with tears, 
Sharing their woe, 
Ladies of Persia 
Softly are weeping. 
Desiring each 


« 338 » 


Him to behold 
Wedded but lately, 
Couches forsaking. 
Soft as their coverlets 
(Youth was voluptuous), 
Their sorrows, insatiate woe 
And I the paean's song recite. 
Doom of the gone. 
Woe upon woe 

Now all Asia 
Desolate, void. 
Sighs lament: 
Xerxes led, 

Xerxes lost, 
O woe, 

Xerxes heedless all discharged 

With ocean argosies 

Why was Darius so long without harm. 

Archery's captain of citizens, 

Loved S ousa's lord''— 

Armies, navies 
Warships led, 
O woe, 

Warships rammed destructively 
By Grecian arms. 

Scarcely escaped was the leader alone 
(So we have heard) in the Thracian 
Plains, bitter ways = 

They of the first death, 

« 339 » 


Left by necessity, 

Round by Kychraean shores, 

Moan in your anguish, 

Cry to the heavens your grief, 


Wail long-weeping 
Mournful ones.— 

Tom in the sea-swirl, 

Mangled by voiceless, 

Fish of the unstained sea. 

Houses deprived grieve, 
Sonless, to heavens their grief, 

Elders mourning, 
Hear all woe. = 

They throughout the Asian land 
No longer Persian laws obey, 
No longer lordly tribute yield, 
Exacted by necessity; 
Nor suffer rule as supphants. 
To earth obeisance never make: 
Lost is the kingly power.— 

Nay, no longer is the tongue 

Imprisoned kept, but loose are men, 

When loose the yoke of power's bound. 

To bawl their hberty. 

But Ajax' isle, spilled with blood 

Its earth, and washed round by sea. 

Holds the remains of Persia. = 

« 240 » 


(Enter Queen ) 


My friends, whoever's wise m ways of evil 
Knows how, when a flood of evil comes, 

Everything we grow to fear; but when 600 

A god our voyage gladdens, we believe 

Always that fortune's never-changing wind 

Will blow. As my eyes behold all things 

As fearful visitations of the gods. 

So my ears already ring with cureless songs: 

Thus consternation terrifies my sense. 

Therefore I departed from the palaces, 

Alone returning, unaccompanied 

By chariots, by pomp and ceremony. 

To the father of my son I bring 

Propitious offerings, hbations 610 
For the dead: a milk-sweet draught of sacred kine 
Unblemished; and resplendent liquors of the honey- 
Working bee, with liquid droplets of a maiden 
Stream are mingled; and this elixir 
Of an antique vine, whose mother is 
Tia^ •nrild fields; and golden-green the fruit 
Of fragrant ohve trees, always flourishing 
Their leafy age; and plaited flowers, children 
Of the fecund earth. My fnends, reate 
Your chaiXs and threnodies; recall 

Darius' demon over these hbations 620 
To the dead, sepulchral honors, which 
I lavish on the nether gods. 

O Queen of the Persians, 
To the dark chambers 
Libations pour; 
While, kindness imploring 
Of the gods, the conductors. 

« 241 » 


We ofier prayer: 
Ye sacred divinities, 
Earth and King Hermes, 
Conduct him to hght 
Up from the dead. 
Who alone of all mortals, 
A remedy knowing, 
May show us the end 

Hearest thou, blessed king 

Equal to god, 

As I proclaim now 

Chantings unpleasant 

Barbarous mournful 

Clear and diverse' 

Miserable sorrows 

I shall cry out. 

Below dost thou hearken'— 

Earth and the other gods 
Leaders of dead. 
Glorious demon 
Him let arise thence, 
God of the Persians 
Sousa his mother; 
Send up the man whom 
Never surpassed 
The Persian land buried = 

Loved IS the man, loved his tomb 
Hiding his loving ways. 
Aedoneus conductor. 
Would that Aedoneus send 
Lord Darius alone:— 

Never by war wasted his men, 
Never in&tuate, 

« 242 » 


Called a god in wisdom, 
God in wisdom he was. 
Ruled his people well = 

Padshah, ancient Padshah, 
Appear on the height of thy tomb, 

Raise thy slipper safFron-dyed, 660 
Flash the lappets of thy crown: 
Father Darius, Oh hither come, woe — 

Hear the recent sorrows, 
O master of masters appear. 
Stygian gloom doth flit about, 

All the youth hath perished now. 670 
Father Darius, Oh hither come, woe. = 

Oh, alas. Oh' 

O much-lamented by his friends m death' 

The ships with triple banks of oars are gone 6S0 

(The Ghost of Darius rises.) 


O faithful followers, companions 
rTt my "youth ' O Persian counselors! 
What burden's burdening the aty, which 
In lamentation moans, and makes the plains 
Tremble' ^nd ternfied I saw my wife 
Beside my tomb, and graciously received 
Her oflferings; and you lamented, standing 
Near my tomb, with cries of resurrection 
CaUmg piteously. Ascent is not easy. 
The chthomc deities more readily 

Receive than give; but I, a potentate 690 
Among them, came: be quick, that I be un- 
Reproached for being late What recent woe 
Upon the Persians weighs? 

243 » 



I'm shamed to behold thee, 
I'm shamed to address thee, 
Who was anaently feared.— 

Since I have risen obeying 
Lamentations, lengthen not 
Your tale, but speak succinctly, 
Recounting all. Lay aside your 
Reverence toward me. 

1 tremble to please thee, 
I tremble to tell thee 
What IS loth to be told.= 


As an ancient fear obstructs your sense. 
You, ag^d consort of my marriage, 
Noble Queen, cease your weeping, tell me 
Clearly: many woes arise by sea, many 
Come by land, the longer hfe is racked. 


O King, exceeding mortal happiness 
By happy iate ! How, as long as you beheld 
The eyes of sun, you spent, how envied' a blessed 
Life like god's; and now I envy you 
Your dying, ere you saw this depth of woe. 
Everything, Darius, you will hear 
Succmctly: Persia is destroyed. 

How? A lighming-bolt of hunger' Civil 
Strife within the city? 


No, but all 
The host's destroyed at Athens. 

« 244 » 



Who among 

My sons was general? Tell me. 

Furious Xerxes, who dramed the plain manless. 

By foot or warship was his vain attempt? 

By both: a double front of doubled hosts. 

But how did so great an army cross the strait? 

Devices, yoking Helle's strait, a path 


He accomplished this? To close 
Great Bosphorus' 


So It was; some god 

Contrived it. 

Alas! a great divinity 
Deceived his sense. 

The evil end he made 
Is present to the eye. 

"What befell them 
That you thus lament? 

The naval host, 
Destroyed, destroyed the landed host. 

Thus all the people spears destroyed 

« 245 » 



Thus Sousa groans desolate. 

Alas' the goodly host' Alas' defenders' 

All the Bactrians destroyed, no youth remains 

O woe ' the youth of alhes gone 


Alone with few they say. 

Perished how' 

Perished where' 

To the joyous bridge 
They came, the yoke of continents. 


He was saved' Can this be true' 

Yes, a clear report without dispute. 

Alas' that prophecy was quick to act' 

Zeus hurled against my son its hghtning-end. 

While I expected after many years 

The gods would make an end, but when a man's 

Willing and eager, god joins m. The sprmg 

Of evil's found- my son in ignorance 

Discovered it, by youthful pride, who hoped 

To check the sacred waters of the Hellespont 

By chams, just as if it were a slave He smoothed 

His way, yoking Neptune's flowmg Bosphorus 

With hammered shackles. Mortal though he was, 

« 246 » 


By folly thought to conquer all the gods 
And Neptune Had not my son diseased his sense? 
I fear my labored wealth will fall the prey 
Of conquerors 


Wicked men counseled this, furious 
Xerxes learned, saying you acquired wealth 
By spear, while he, in cowardice, played 
The warrior at home, and multiplied 
By nothing his ancestral wealth. So often 
These wicked men reproached him, until he 
Did plot his martial way toward Greece. 


So their great, eternal deed is done! 

Never had anyone before made this 

Sousa so empty and so desolate. 

Since Zeus, our Lord, bestowed that honor: 

One man to wield his rod's authority 

Over all of Asia, rich in flocks. 

First was Medus leader of the host; 

^fect Jjis, son fulfilled the office well. 

Whose reason was the helmsman to his spirit; 

Third was Cyrus, fortunate, whose rule 

Brought peace to all: the Lydian people 

And the Phrygian he acquired. 

And marched his might against Ionia: 

No god resented him, for he was wise; 

And fourth was Cyrus' son, who shamed his country 

And ancestral throne; but Artaphrenes 

(Aided by his guile) and his friends. 

Whose task this was, slew him in his palace. 

After him, I, willing, drew the lot 

To rule, and often led a mighty host; 

But never did I cast so great a woe 

« 247 » 


Upon my city. Xerxes, my son, as young 
In age as sense, ignored my wisdom. Know 
This well, my comrades old as I, all of us 
Who held these powers, never wrought so many 

To what end, my Lord Darius, dost thou 
Harp on this? How could we, the Persian 
People, fare the best? 


If you lead 
No expedition to the land of Greece, 
Not even if the Median host be more; 
For Grecian soil is their own ally. 


What dost thou intend by that, "their own ally"? 

It starves to death excessive numbers. 

But, be sure, we'll raise a well-equipped 
And chosen host, 


But even they, who now 
Remain in Greece, shall find no safe return. 


What? Shall not all the host return 
Across the strait of Helle? 


Few of many. 
If the oracles of gods are credited: 
As we gaze at what has passed, no half 
Prophecy succeeds, but either all 
Or none. If we credit them, he leaves 

« 248 » 


Behind, his empty hopes persuading, chosen 
Numbers of his host, who now are stationed 
Where Asopus floods the plain, its rich sap 
Kind to Boeotia; here await them 
The lowest depths of woe to suffer, payment 
For his pride and godless arrogance. 
They, invading Greece, felt no awe. 
They did not hesitate to plunder images 
Of gods, and put temples to the torch; 
Altars were no more, and statues, like trees. 
Were uprooted, torn from their bases 
In all confusion Thus their wickedness 
Shall no less make them suffer: 
Other woes the future holds in store. 
And still the fount of evils is not quenched, 
It wells up, and overflows: so great will be 
The saaificial cake of clotted gore 
Made at Plataea by Dorian spear 
And corpses, piled up like sand, shall witness. 
Mute, even to the century to come, 
Before the eyes of men, that never, being 
^Srral,'t)ught we cast our thoughts too high 
Insolence, once blossoming, bears 
Its fruit, a tasseled field of doom, from which 
A weeping^harvest's reaped, all tears. 
Behold the punishment of these! remember 
Greece and Athens ' lest you disdain 
Your present fortune, and lust after more, 
Squandering great prosperity. 
Zeus is the chastener of overboastful 
Minds, a grievous corrector. Therefore advise 
Him, admonished by reason, to be wise, 
And cease his overboastful temper from 
Sinnmg against the gods. And you, aged 
Mother of Xerxes, go to the palace; 

« 249 » 


Gather up rich and bnUiant cloths, and go 
To meet your son; for he, in grief, has rent 
His embroidered robes to shreds. Gently soothe 
Him with your words- to yours alone he'll listen 
Now shall I descend to nether gloom. 
Elder counselors, farewell, and though 
In time of troubles, give daily pleasures 
To your soul, as wealth cannot benefit 
The dead. 

(The Ghost of Darius descends.) 


Alas! the woes upon us and the woes 
To come have grieved me hearmg them. 

O god' how many sorrows move agamst me! 
But one torment has the deepest fang, 
Hearing that dishonor folds about my son 
Its robes. But I shall go to gather up 
Adornments, and try to meet my son. 
When evils come on those we dearly love. 
Never shall we betray them. 

(Exit Quetlt) 


Oh' alas. Oh! what a great and a good life was ours, 
Cmlly ordered, as long as the agM 
Ruler of all, 

Mild, unconquerable king. 

Equal to god, 

Darius ruled the land — 

Glorious arms we displayed, and the bulwarks of custom 

All they did guide. And returnmg from battle 

Grief had we none, 

Victors, unburdened of all, 

Happy and glad, 

To home again we came.= 

« 250 » 


For many the cities he sacked never crossing the Halys, 
Nor leaving his hearth in a rush 
At the mouth of the River Strymon, 
Near Thracian places, 
The islands of Achelous,— 

Both cities beyond the Aegean, surrounded by towers, 870 

Obeyed him our lord, and who round 

The broad strait of Helle boasting, 

And recessed Propontis, 

And gateway of Pontus, Bosphor,= 

And the isles along the headland washed by sea 880 
Lying close to shore. 

Samos and Chios and Lesbos the olive-planted, 
Paros and Naxos and Mykonos, 
And Tenos the neighbor of Andros — 

And the islands in the midst of sea he ruled- 

Ikaros and Lemnos, 890 

Rhodus and Knidos and cities of Aphrodite, 

Paphos and Solus and Salamis, 

Whose founder's the cause of these sorrows. = 

Thus the wealthy and populous lands. 
The Ionian province, he ruled. 
And the strength of his helmeted men 
Was unwe'Sried, innumerable alhes. 
But now we bear god-routed fortunes. 
Overcome by the blows of the sea. 


Oh, hateful this doom, woe is me, 
Wretched alas, without augury. 
How savagely swooped the deity. 
What Will befall me' I swoon 
Beholding these citizens agM. 


{Enter Xerxes alone.) 


251 » 


Zeus ' would that fete had covered me 
With the Persians gone' 

Oh alas, King, for a brave host, 

For the great honor of Persian rule. 

For the ranks of men whom a god has slain 

Nations wail their native sons, 
Who by Xerxes stuiFed up hell, 
Many heroes, Persia's bloom, 
Archers, thick array of men. 
Myriads have perished. 
Woe, O King of noble strength. 
Cruel' Cruel' Asia kneels. 


Here am I, alas, O woe: 

To my native and ancestral land 

Woe IS the evil I've become. 


Loudly shall I send, for your return. 

An evil-omened shout, an evil-practiced cry: 

A weeping wail of Persian mourners shall I sing 


Send a wail of evil sound 
Lamenting and grievous, now 
Fortune agam has changed for me 


Mourning wail all-weeping shall I send, 
In honor of your woes and sea-struck grief 
Again a wailing filled with tears I'll cry. = 


Ionian Ares spoiled. 
Protected by their ships. 
Their partisan in war, 


Reaping gloomy flats of sea 
and demon-haunted shores. 

Oh alas' 

Lament and ask for all 


But where are the others' 

Where is thy retmue, 

Like Pharandakas, 

Sousas, Pelagon, and Agabatas, 

Dotamas, Psammis, Sousiscanes 960 

Leaving Agbatana'— 

The lost I deserted there, 

Who from the ships of Tyre 

To Salaminian shore 

Vanished and were gone, their corpses 
pounding stubborn shores 

Oh alasi,but where is Phamouchus 
And brave Ariomardus' 
Where is Seualkes lord, 
Or Lilaeus grand, 

Memphis, Tharybis, and Masistres, 970 
Artembares and Hystaechmes'' 
These I ask you about. = 

Oh alas, woe. 

Who all, beholding ancient, hateful Athens, gasp on shore, 
Woe upon woe, wretched in a single sweep of oar. 


Did you leave that Persian there, 

Your trusted universal eye, 980 

« 253 » 


Who made his count by myriads, 
Batanochus' son Alpistus' 

Of Sesames, of Megabates, 

Great Parthus and Oebares you left behind' 

0 woe, O woe, O miseries 
You tell of woes on woes — 


Oh alas, woe. 

The magic wheel of longing for my friends you turn, you tell 
Me hateful sorrows Withm my frame my heart resounds, 

And for the others still we long. 

The leader often thousand men 

Of Mardia, Xanthes, Angchares, 

And Diaexis and Arsamas, 

Masters of horsemen, 

And Dadakas and Lythimnas, 

And Tolmus who never slaked his spear. 

1 see about the moving tents, 
I see no followers = 


Gone are the hunters of the pack. 

Gone, alas, femeless. 

Oh alas, woe 

Woe, O gods 

Who brought these unexpected woes ' 
How baleful gleams the eye of doom.— 

Struck by woes perpetual. 

« 354 » 



Struck by recent — 


A recent woe. 


Woe, alas, 

They met the men-of-war without success 
How luckless was the Persians' war. = 

Alas, m so vast an army I am struck 

What IS not lost, thou curse of the Persians' 

Behold the remnants of my power 

I see, I see 

And this receptacle. 

What IS this that is saved' 


A treasure of arrows. 

How few H'om so many! 


We are reft of protectors 

Greeks stand iSrm in combat — 

Alas, too firm ' I scan an unexpected woe 

You mean the host, routed and broken? 

« 255 » 



My garments I rent at my woe. 


Alas, O woe 

And even more than woe. 

Double and trfple the woe. 

Painful to us, but to enemies joy. 

And docked was our power, 

I am stripped of escorters. 

Sea-dooms stripped us of our friends. = 

Weep, weep, weep for the woe, and homeward depart. 

Alas, O woe, misery. 

Shout antiphonal to me. 

To woebegone woeful gift of woes. 

Raising a cry, join together our songs. 
Xerxes and Chorus 

Alas, O woe, woe, woe upon woe. 

Hearing this calamity, 

Oh' I am pierced.— 

Sweep, sweep, sweep with the oar, and groan for my sak 

« 256 » 



I weep, alas, woe is me. 

Shout antiphonal to me. 

My duty is here, O master, lord. 

Lift up your voice m lamenting now. 
Xerxes and Chorus 

Alas, O woe, woe, woe upon woe. 

Black again the blows are mixed, 
Oh, with the groans. = 

Beat your breast and cry Mysian songs 

Woe upon woe. 

Tear your whitened hair tightly clenched 

Tightly tlenched, plaintive. 


Piercing cry. 

And so I shall.— 

Full-fold garments with strength of hand ren( 

Woe upon woe. 

Pluck your hair and pity the host 

Tightly clenched, plaintive. 

« 257 » 



Drench your eyes 


And so I weep. = 


Shout antiphonal to me 


Aks, O woe. 

Wretched, homeward depart 

O woe, alas 

Through the city lamentation 

Lament mdeed 

Softly stepping, moan. 

O Persian land m hardness stepped 

O woe, woe, in triple banks of oars, 
O woe, woe, in argosies destroyed 

We shall escort thee 
With mournful lament 

« 258 


Translated and with an Introduction by 


Tjhis strange, archaic play was produced in 467 b c It is probably 
the last play of a trilogy written by Aeschylus on the theme of the 
Oedipus cycle It is at once undramatic and yet, in a paradoxical 
way, very theatrical Who can take seriously a play with almost no 
action, in which the main event is the recital of the blazonry on the 
shields of the Seven Champions'' But a careful reading will reveal 
the tremendous effect that the dancing accompaniments would have 
made. The effect of the whole is, despite its disadvantages for a 
modern reader, very powerful 

The play is extremely hard to translate The style is heroic in the 
good parts and bombastic in the bad. It is never simple and luminous 
Whereas the same quality of diction m the elevated parts of the 
Prometheus is always suited to a majesty of theme comprehensible to 
a modern reader, the matter of the Seven is remote from the interest 
of a reader today, and it needs imagination to conceive of it in the 
Greek theater, let alone on the stage as we now know it. 

It is perhaps better understood by a modern reader in the mood in 
which he would now attend a ritual ceremony, a church service, or a 
pageant such as the coronation of an English monarch. Therrecital of 
the devices on the shields, the matching of the champions, and, in 
the last part of the play, the antiphonal keening of the sisters over 
the dead bodies of their brothers are all properly traditional ritual. 
They were probably filled for the Greek spectator with matter 
pertinent to his own time. The poLtical relation of Argos, Thebes, 
and Athens was then much discussed, and Aeschylus has undoubted- 
ly used the popular interest in these matters to render the old story 
vital for his audience. It may be that the names of the champions had 
many assoaations for the mid-fifth-century Greek. Aeschylus has 

« 260 » 


Similarly used the general interest m the Areopagus in the years 
462-459 B C for the pageant drama of the Oresteia Though many of 
the clues to his employment of this method in the Seven are lost to 
us, we arc almost certainly correct in assuming that this is again the 
course he adopted The Seven, like the Eumenides, is the last play of 
the trilogy, and m both Aeschylus has managed to raise progressive- 
ly a particular story to the level of a general process of history 
culminating in a particular historical occurrence known to his 

261 » 


Eteodes, son of Oedipus and 
present ruler of Thebes 

Antigone 1 

> his sisters 
Ismene ] 


Chorus of Theban Women 


Scene Thebes The Prince Eteocles confronts a crowd of Thebans 

You citizens of Cadmus, he must speak home 

that in the ship's prow watches the event 

and guides the rudder, his eye not drooped m sleep. 

For if we win success, the God is the cause 

but li — may it not chance so — there is disaster, 

throughout the town, voiced by its atizens, 

a multitudmous swelling prelude 

cries on one name "Eteocles" with groans. 

which Zeus defender keep from the city of Cadmus 

even as his name implies 

You must help her now — you still something short lo 

of your young manhood and you whose tune of youth 

is gone, your body grown to its full bigness — 

each of you to such charge as fits you- 

help the, city, help the altars of your country's Gods, 

save their honors from destruction: 

help your children, help Earth your Mother. 

She reared you, on her kindly surface, crawling 

babies, welcomed all the trouble of your nurture, 

reared you to live m her, to carry a shield 

m her defense, loyally, against such needs as this 20 

Now to this God kindly mclines this day. 

For those who have been held in siege so long 

the Gods grant commonly a favorable fight 

So says the prophet now, bird shepherding 

with skill unlying, ears and mind and fire 

tending the oracular birds. 

The master of these prophecies declares 

« 263 » 


enemy's night council framed a plot 
for the greatest Achaean assault upon us. 
All to the battlements, to the gates of the towers' 
Haste, m full armor, man the breastworks 
stand on the scaffolding and at the exit gates 
be firm, abide, your hearts confident 
fear not that mighty mob of foreigners. 
God will dispose all well: 
I have sent scouts and spies upon their host 
they will not — well I know it— make the journey 
vamly, and by their information 
I shall be armed against enemy's stratagems 

Eteocles, great prince of the Cadmaeans, 

I come bringing a clear word from the army 

of matters there I myself too 

have seen the things I speak of 

There were seven men, fierce regiment commanders, 

who cut bulls' throats into an iron-rimmed 

shield, and with hands touched the bulls' blood, 

takmg their oaths by Ares and Enyo, 

by the bloodthirsty God of Battle Rout 

either to lay your city level 

with the ground, sacked, or by their death to make 
a bloody paste of this same soil of yours. 
Remembrances of themselves for parents at home 
their hands have hung upon Adrastus' chariot: 
their tears ran down, 

but never a word of pity was in their mouths. 

Their spirits were hard as iron and ablaze 

breathed courage: war looked through their lion-eyes. 

You will not wait long for confirmation 

of this my news- 1 left them castmg lots 

how each should lead his regiment against your gates 

Wherefore the choicest men within your city 

« 264 » 


set at the entrance gates set them quickly 
for near already the armed host of Argives 
comes in a cloud of dust, flecks of white, 
panted from horses' lungs, staining the ground 
You, like the skilful captain of a ship 
barricade your town before the blast of Ares 
strikes it m storm* already bellows 
the armed land wave. Take quickest opportunity 
for all these things and I for the rest 
will keep my eye, a trusty day watcher 
Thanks to my clear reports you shall know whatever 
happens within the gates, and come to no harm. 

0 Zeus and Earth and Gods that guard the city 
My father's Curse, mighty evil spirit, 

do not root out this city of mine, do not 

give her to ruin and destruction, do not 

give her to capture nor her homes and hearths. 

This IS a town that speaks with a Greek tongue 

City and land of the Cadmaeans are free: 

do not bmd her in slavish yoke, be her protector 

1 think I»speak for everybody's good, 
for a city prosperous honors the Gods 


My sorrov^s are great and fearful I cry aloud 
the army has left the camp and is gone 

Look at the forward rushing river, the great tide of horsemen! 
I see a cloud of dust, sky high, and am convmced, 
a messenger clear and unlymg, though voiceless 

Treadmg feet on the earth of my country, 
trampling hoofs, the sound of these draws near 

(Shout is heard ) 

It floats. It rings 

like a resistless mountain waterfall 

« 265 » 


O gods, O goddesses, the trouble raised ' 
Turn It aside! 

(Shouts ) 

Over the walls they spring 
the Horse of the White Shield 

well equipped, hastening upon our city 90 

Who will protect us' Who will be our champion 

of gods or goddesses' 

Shall I kneel at the images of the Gods' 

0 Blessed Ones, throned in peace. 
It IS time to cling to your images. 
We delay and wail too much. 

Do you hear or do you not the rattle of shields' 100 

When, if not now, shall we hang 

robes and garlands on your statues, supphcating' 

1 see the sound' 

No one spear rattled so 

What will you do? Will you betray, 
ancient lord of our land Ares, 
your own land' 

O spirit of the golden helmet look down upon us, 
look down upon a city 
which once you dearly loved. 

City guarding gods of our land, come, come all of you! 

Look upon us a band of virgins, no 

suppliants against slavery' 

Around our city the wave of warriors, with waving plumes, 

roars; blasts of the War God stirred them 

Alas alas Zeus, Father Omnipotent' all fulfilling' 

Let us not fall into the hands of the foeman! 

For the Argives are around Cadmus' city. 120 
Fear is stronger than arms. 

« 266 » 


There is murder in the ringing bits 
between their horses' jaws 
Seven proud captains of the host, 
with harness and spear, 
having won their place by lot, 
stand champions at seven gates 
O victory, battle-loving, Zeus begotten, 
save our city! 

O Pallas, and the Horseman, Prince of the Sea, 
King of the Trident, Poseidon, 
deliverance from fear, 
deliverance grant 

You, Ares, protect the city of Cadmus, that bears your name 

Show your care for it, in manifest presence. 

And Cypris, who are our ancestress 

turn destruction away "We are sprung from your blood 

we approach you and cry 

with prayers for the ears of the Gods 

And you, "Wolf God, be a very "Wolf 

m the enemy host. And you, daughter of Leto, 

make ready your bow. 

Ah, ah, 

the rattle ot chariots round the city: I hear it. 
O Lady Hera, 

the groaning axles of the loaded wheels. 
Beloved Artemis! 

The air is mad with the whirr of spears. 

What will happen our city, what will become of it, 

whereto shall the Gods brmg an end upon us? 

There comes a shower of stones on the top of the battlements' 
O beloved Apollo ' 

There is the rattle of bronze-bound shields at our gates' 

«c 267 


O Son of Zeus 

from whom comes the war's fulfilment, 

from whom comes the fight's holy consummation. 

O Athene, Blessed Queen, Champion of the city, 

deliver her from the assault of the Seven 

O Gods all sufficient, 

O Gods and Goddesses, Perfecters, 

Protectors of our country's forts, 

do not betray this city, spear-won, 

to a foreign-tongued enemy. 

Hear O hear the prayers, hand outstretched, 

of the virgins supphcating in justice. 

O beloved Spirits, 

that encompass our city to its deliverance, 
show how much you love it: 
Bethink you of the public sacrifices. 
As we have thought of you, rescue us. 
Remember, I pray you, the rites 
with lovmg sacrifice offered. 


You msupportable creatures, I ask you, 

is this the best, is this for the city's safety, 

IS this enheartening for our beleaguered army, 

to have you falling at the images 

of the city's gods crying and howling, 

an object of hatred for all temperate souls' 

Neither in evils nor in fair good luck 

may I share a dwelling with the tribe of women ' 

When she's triumphant, hers a confidence 

past converse with another, when afiraid 

an evil greater both for home and city. 

Here now running wild among the citizenry 

you have roared them mto spintless cowardice. 

So, outside of our gates, gams strength the enemy 

« 268 » 

ojSEven against thebes» 

while we are by ourselves, within, undone. 
All this you may have, for living with women 
Now if there is anyone that will not hear 
my orders, be he man or woman or m between, 
sentence of death shall be decreed against him 
and pubhc stoning he shall not escape. 
What IS outside is a man's province let no 
woman debate it: within doors do no mischief 
Do you hear me or not'' Or are you deaP 

Dear son of Oedipus, the bumping rattle of the chariots, 
rattle, rattle, I am afraid when I hear, 
when the naves of the axles screech in their running 
when the fire-forged bits speak ringingly, 
rudder oars in horses' mouths. 

What, shall the sailor, then, leave the stern 
and run to the prow and find device for safety 
when his vessel is foundering in the sea waves' 

But It was to the images of the Gods 

the ancient images I ran, trusting in the Gods, 

when the stony snowflakes crashed upon our gates 

nay, then I was lifted up with force and betook me to prayer 

to the Blessf d Ones, for our city, 

that they may make their strength its protection. 


For protection pray that our towers 

hold off the enemy's spears. 

And shall not that be 

as the Gods dispose? 

The Gods, they say, 
of a captured town desert her. 

« 269 » 



Never in my lifetime, never may this assembly 
of Gods desert us never may I live to see 
this city overrun, an enemy soldiery 
putting the torch to it 


Do not call upon the Gods 
and then be guided wrongly 
Obedience is mother to success, 
and success is parent of rescue — 
so runs the proverb 


This IS true but the strength of God is still greater 
Oftentimes when a man is hopelessly sunk 
m misfortune He raises him, yes from his greatest sorrow 
while the clouds still hang over him, high above our eyes 


But It IS man's part, the sacrifice, the consultation 
of the Gods, when the enemy assault us; 
It IS yours to be silent and stay withm doors 


It IS thanks to the Gods that we have our city 
unconquered it is thanks to them 
that our towers reject the mob of foemen 
What should be resented in these words' 


I do not grudge your honoring the Gods 
But lest you make our citizens cowards, 
be quiet and not overfearfiil 


It was but now that I heard the noise and the confusion 
and trembling m fear came to this citadel, 
sacred seat 




If you shall learn of men dying or wounded, 
do not be eager to anticipate it with cries, 
for murdered men are the War God's nourishment 

The snorting of horees' There, I hear it. 

Do not listen; do not hear too much. 

Our city groans from its foundation we are surrounded. 

I shall think of this* that is enough for you. 

I am afraid the din at the gates grows louder. 

Silence! Do not speak of this throughout the city 

O Blessed Band, do not betray this fort. 

Damnation! Can you not endure in silence' 

Fellow-citizen Gods, grant me not to be a slave. 

It IS you who enslave yourselves, and all the city 

O Zeus, All Mighty, your bolt upon our foes! 

O Zeus, what a tribe you have given us in women! 

Base IS the tribe of men of a captured town 

Words of lU omen, your hands on the images' 

« 271 » 



Fear captures my tongue, and my spirit is nought 

Grant me, I pray you, the small thing I ask 260 

Speak It quickly, that I may know 

Silence, you wretches, don't frighten your friends 

I am silent with others I'll endure what is fated 

I hke this word better than those before. 
Furthermore, get you away from the statues, 
and being so, utter a better prayer 
"May the Gods stand our allies " First hear my 
prayer and then offer yours — 
a holy gracious paean of thanksgiving, 
the cry of sacrifice, our Grecian custom, 

joy to our friends, dissolving fear of foes 270 

(He approaches the images himself and prays ) 
Gods of the city, of this country Gods, 
Lords of Its fields, and its assembly places. 
Springs of Dirce, waters of Ismenus — 
to you my vow. 

if all go well with us, if the city is saved, 
my people shall dye your hearths with the blood 
of sacrificed sheep, aye with the blood 
of bulls slaughtered to honor the Gods. 
I shall myself dedicate trophies, 
spoils of my enemies, their garments fixed 
on spear points, m your sanctuaries. 
(To the Chorus) 

These be your prayers, unlamentmg 280 
with no vain wild panting and moaning. 
For all such you will not escape your doom 

« 272 


I Will take SIX men, myself to make a seventh 
and go to post them at the city's gates, 
opponents of the enemy, in gallant style, 
before quick messengers are on us and 
their words of haste burn us with urgency. 


I heed him but through fear 
my spirit knows no sleep 

and neighbors to my heart, ^go 

anxieties, kindle terror 

of the host that beleaguers us. 

As the all-fearmg dove 

dreads for its nestlings' sake 

the snakes that menace them 

For they against our forts 

with all their host, with all their people, 

come. What will become of me' 

Jagged rocks they hurl 

upon our citizens, on both sides pelted 300 

0 children of Zeus, ye Gods, 

1 pray you — ^protect 
the city a«d the army, 
the Cadmus born. 

What country will you take m exchange, 
than this one better, 
if you abandon this deep-soiled land 
to her enemies, 

and Dirce's water, fairest to drink 

of all that come from Poseidon 310 

the Earth Upholder, and Tethys' sons' 

Therefore, you aty-guarding Gods, 

upon the men outside our forts 

ram slaughtering destruction 

and rum, that will cast away their shields. 

and for these citizens here 

« 273 


Win glory and of the city 
be the rescuers 

Then stand fair in your places 
to receive our shrill prayers. 

Pity it were that this city, so ancient, 

should be cast to the House of Death, 

a spear-booty, a slave, 

m crumbhng ashes, dishonorably, 

sacked by an Achaean, with the Gods' consent, 

that Its women be haled away, 

captives, young and old, 

dragged by the hair, as horses by the mane, 

and their raiment torn about them 

Emptied the city wails 

as the captive spoil, with mingled cries, 

IS led to Its doom 

This heavy fate is what I fear 

It IS a woeful thing for maidens unripe, 

before the marriage rites, to tread 

this bitter journey from their homes 

I would say that the dead 

are better off than this. 

Alas, unlucky mdeed the fete 

of a city captured — 

murder, fire, and rapine, 

all the aty polluted by smoke, 

and the breath of Ares on it 

maddened, desecrating piety, slaying the people. 

There is tumult through the town. 

Against her comes a towering net 

Man stands against man with the spear and is killed 

Young mothers, blood-boltered, 

cry bitterly for the babes at their breast. 

The rovmg bands of pillagers are all brothers, 

« 274 » 


he that has plunder meets with another, 
he that is empty calls him that is empty, 
wishing to have a partner, eager for a share 
neither less nor yet equal 
From such things what shall one augur? 

All sorts of grain fallen 

strewn on the ground vex, 

embitter the eye of the housewife 

The great, profuse gifts of the earth 

m reckless streams of waste are poured out 

The girls, new servants, new to misery, 

must endure a war captive's bed, 

bed of a man successful 

Theirs the expectation of night's consummation 
but for a triumphant enemy 
to help their tearful sorrow. 

Here, I thmk, friends, your scout comes bringing 
some news of the enemy — hastily urging 
the joints of his legs to carry him here. 


And here is the king himself the son 
of Oedipus m the nick of time to hear 
the messenger's story He too is in haste 
and nimbly ?teps along. 


I can declare — 
I know It well — the enemy's position: 
how each at the gates has won by lot his station 
At the Proetid gate Tydeus now thunders 
but dares not cross Ismenus' ford, the prophet 
forbids The sacrifices are un&vorable 
Tydeus, enraged and thirsting for the fight, 
threatens, like serpents' hiss at noonday; 

275 » 


Strikes with abuse the wise seer, Oecleides, 
"battle and death make him cringe 
through cowardice" — so he shouts aloud 
and shakes his threefold shadowing plumes, 
mane of his crested helm Beneath his shield, 
inside, ring brazen bells, a peal of terror, 
and on the shield he bears this arrogant 
device — a fashioned sky afire with stars 
In the shield's midst a glorious full moon, 
night's eye, the eldest of the stars, stands out. 
With such mad bragging and with overweening 
trappings of war he roars along the banks 
m love with battle, like the horse that chafes 
against the bit, high mettled, impatient, hearing 
the trumpet's sound Against this champion 
whom wiU you set' 

When the bolts are shot back at the Proetid gates, 
who will be champion fit to deserve our trust' 

No equipment of a man will make me tremble 
Devices on a shield deal no one wounds 
The plumes and bells bite not without the spear 
And for this night you speak of on his shield 
glistening with all the stars of heaven — someone 
may find his folly prophetic to himself 
For if in death mght fall upon his eyes, 
to him that bears this pompous blazonry 
It shall be truly and most justly pregnant, 
and he shall make his insolence prophesy 
against himself 

I nominate against him 
as champion of these gates to challenge Tydeus, 
the worthy son of Astacus — ^right noble, 
one honoring the throne of Modesty 
and hating insolent words 

« 276 » 


Laggard m all things base he is wont to be 
but not a coward From those sown men 
whom Ares spared his root springs — ^very native 
is Melanippus to this land His deeds 
shall Ares with his dice determine, 
but Justice, blood of his blood, sends him forth, 
surely, to turn the enemy's spear away 
from the mother that has borne him 


May the Gods grant 

good luck to our champion, 

since justly he comes forward 

a fighter for us 

But I fear for our friends 

to look upon bloodshed 

of those we love, dying 


Yes, may the Gods grant him good luck 
At Electra's gates stands by lot Capaneus, 
a giant this man, taller than the other, 
and his threats breathe inhuman arrogance. 
Our towers he menaces with terrors — Fortune 
fulfil them not ' — for he declares he'll sack 
our city witlj the Gods' good wiU or ill 
Not even Zeus's wrath striking the earth 
before him shall be obstacle to his purpose 
The lightnmgs and the thunderbolts he likened 
to the sun's warm rays at noontide. 
His device a naked man that carries fire, 
in his hands, ablaze, a torch all ready. In gold 
are letters that declare "I'll burn the city " 
Against this man send — ^who will meet him' 
Who will abide his threats and never tremble? 

« 277 y> 



This man's boasts, too, beget us other gam. 

For of the haughtiness of vain men, true 

accuser proves their own tongue. Capaneus 

threatens to do — and is prepared to do — 

disdains the Gods, and giving exercise 

to his mouth, in vam joy, up to heaven 

mortal though he is, against Zeus sends his words, 

shouted in swelhng pride I trust on him 

will justly come the bolt that carries fire 

in no way like the sun's warm rays at noontide 

Against him, be his hps never so insolent, 

a man of fiery spirit sliall be stationed, 

strong Polyphontes, a guard trustworthy, 

by favor of protecting Artemis 

and of the other Gods Tell me another 

that has his place by lot at another gate 


Destruction on him that against the city 
vaunts huge threats, 

may the thunderbolt's blast restrain him 

before he burst into my house, 

before he ravish me from my maiden room. 


Now I shall tell him that by lot won next 

station at the gates The third lot cast 

jumped from the upturned brazen helmet 

in favor of a third man, Eteoclus, 

that he should lead his regiment in a charge 

against the gates of Neis He wheels his mares 

snorting in their nose bands, ready to charge the g 

Pipes on the bridle bands filled with insolent 

nostril breath whistle in a foreign note. 

His shield, too, has its design — and that no lowly- 

« 278 » 


a man in armor mounts a ladder's steps 
to the enemy's town to sack it. Loud 
cries also this man in his written legend 
"Ares himself shall not cast me from the tower." 
Agamst hun send some champion trustworthy 
to turn the yoke of slavery from this aty. 

This man I'll send and may good luck go with him! 

There, he is gone. His boast is in his hands 
Megareus, Creon's son, and of the seed 
and race of the sown men He will not blench 
at the fiirious neighing of horses nor yield the gates. 
Either by death he'll pay his nurture's due 
to his own land or he will capture two men 
and city as depicted on the shield 
and crown his father's house with the spoils of war 
On with another's boasts — don't grudge me the story. 

Good success to you, I pray, 

Champion of my house, 

and to the,enemy ill success' 

as with wild extravagance 

they prate against the city 

with maddened heart, so may Zeus 

the Avenger*ook on them in wrath. 


Another, the fourth, holds the gate that neighbors 
Onca Athena, and takes his station with a shout, 
Hippomedon's vast frame and giant form. 
He whirled a disc around — I mean the circle 
of his shield — until I shuddered I speak truth. 
The armorer cannot have been a poor one 
that put upon the shield this work of art — 
a Typho hurkng from his fiery mouth 

« 279 » 


black smoke, the flickering sister of fire 

The rim that ran around the hollow boss 

of the shield is sohd wrought with coding snakes 

The man himself cried out his warcry, he, 

inspired by Ares, revels m violence 

hke a Bacchanal with murder in his glance 

Take good heed how you deal with such a man, 

he boasts even now at the gate he will raise panic 


First Onca Pallas, with her place beside 

our city, neighbor to our gates, will hate 

the fellow's violence and keep him off, 

as It were a chill snake from her nestling brood 

And then Hyperbius, the stout son of Oenops, 

has been chosen to match him man for man, right wiUi 

at fortune's need, to put his fate to question — 

no man to be reproached either m form 

or spirit or in bearing of his arms 

Hermes has matched the two with excellent reason, 

for man with man they shall engage as foes 

and on their shields shall carry enemy Gods 

The one has Typho breathing fire, the other, 

Hyperbius, has father Zeus in station 

sitting upon his shield, and m his hand 

a burning bolt 

No one has yet seen Zeus defeated anywhere. 
Such on each side are the fevors of the Gods; 
we are on the winning side, they with the vanquished 
if Zeus than Typho mightier prove in battle. 


Sure am I that he who hath 

Zeus's foe upon his shield 

the unloved form of the earth-born God, 

the likeness hated by men 

« 280 » 


and the long-living Gods, 

shall lay his head before our gates 


So may it prove Now I shall take the fifth 

that has his station at the fifth, the Northern gate, 

right by Amphion's tomb that sprung from Zeus 

By his lance he swears — and with sure confidence 

he holds it more m reverence than a god, 

more precious than his eyes — ^he will sack the town 

of Thebes m despite of Zeus. Such the loud vaunt 

of this creature sprung of a mountain mother, handsome, 

somethmg between man and boy. 

The beard is newly sprouting on his cheeks, 

the thick, upspnngmg hair of youth m its bloom. 

His spirit unlike his maiden name* is savage, 

and with a grim regard he now advances 

He too boasts high as he draws near our gates 

For on his brazen shield, his body's rounded 

defense, he swings an insult to our city, 

the Sphinx that ate men raw, cunnmgly wrought, 

burnished, embossed, secured with rivets there. 

A man she' bears beneath her, a Cadmaean, 

so that at him most of our darts shall fly. 

When he comes to the battle, so it seems, 

he will not play the petty shopkeeper 

nor shame the course of his long journey here — 

Parthenopaeus of Arcadia. 

He hves among our enemy presently 

and pays to Argos a fair wage for his keep, 

with threats agamst our forts — ^which God fiilfil not 


Would that they might obtam what firom the Gods 
they pray against us — them, and their impious boasts. 

* Parthenopaeus Maiden One 

«: 281 » 


Then would they perish utterly and ill. 
We have a man to encounter your Arcadian, 
a man unboasting but his hand looks for 
the thing that should be done — Actor, the brother 
of him I spoke of earlier He will not suffer 
a heedless tongue to flow within our gates 
and to breed mischief nor to cross our walls, 
one bearing on an enemy shield the likeness 
of the most hateful Sphinx — or else the beast 
borne outside shall have cause of blame against 
him that would carry her in, for many a hammering 
blow she will get beneath the city's walls. 
With the God's will, I may indeed speak truth 

The words go through my heart; 
the hair stands upright on my head; 
as I listen to mighty words 
of unpious boasting men. 
May the Gods destroy them withm our land ' 

A sixth I'll tell you of — a most modest man 
greatest m might of battle, yet a prophet, 
strong Amphiaraus, at the Homoloian gates 
stationed, shouts msults at strong Tydeus: "Murderer, 
cause of confusion to the city, greatest 
teacher of evil to Argos; of the Fury 
a summonmg herald; servant of bloodshed, 
adviser to Adrastus of all these evils " 
And then agam with eyes uplifted calhng 
on your own brother, strong prince Polyneices, 
he dwells twice on the latter part of his name * 
And this IS the speech to which his lips give utterance: 
"Is such a deed as this dear to the Gods, 

* The latter half of the Greek word Polyneices means "stnfe." 


and £ir to hear and tell of, for posterity, 
for one to sack his native city, destroy 
the gods of his country, bringing in 
an alien enemy host? 

What justice 

shall quench the spring of guilt of another murder? 
Your fetherland destroyed by the spear 
which your own zeal impelled — shall it be your ally? 
But for myself I shall make fzt this soil 
a prophet buned under enemy ground. 
Let us fight The &te I look for is right honorable." 
So spoke the prophet brandishmg his round 
brazen shield No device is on its circle. 
He is best not at seemmg to be such 
but bemg so Deep mdeed is the furrow 
of his mind from which he gathers fruit, and good 
the counsels that do spring from it. For him 
send out, I recommend, wise and good challengers, 
for he is dangerous who reveres the gods. 

Alas, the luck which among human beings 

conjoins an honest man with impious wretches' 

In every enterprise is no greater evil 

than bad companionship, there is no fruit 

that can be gathered The field of doom 

bears death as its harvest. 

Indeed, a pious man, going on board 

as shipmate of a crew of rascal sailors 

and of some mischief they have perpetrated, 

has often died with the God-detested breed; 

or a just man, with fellow atizens 

themselves inhospitable, forgetful of the Gods, 

has fellen into the same snare as the unrighteous, 

and smitten by the common scourge of God 

has yielded up his life. 

« 283 » 


Even so this seer, 

this son of Oecles, wise, just, good, and holy, 6io 
a prophet mighty, mmghng with the impious — 
against his better reason — ^with loud-mouthed 
men who pursue a road long to retrace, 
with God's will shall be dragged to their general doom 
I think he will not even assault the gate- 
not that he is a coward or faint of spirit — 
but well he knows how he must die m the battle 
if Loxias' prophecies shall bear fruit 
Loxias either says nothing or speaks seasonably 

Yet against him, the strong prince Lasthenes 620 
we shall range in combat, an inhospitable 
sentry, in mind an old man but a young one 
in his body's vigor, in his swift-swooping charge, 
in his hand, undelaying to snatch a spear 
and hurl it against the unprotected shield side 
But success— that is for men the gift of God alone 

Hear, O ye Gods, our lawful prayers 
and bring them to fulfilment that 
the city prosper, averting 
the horrors of war upon our invaders 
May Zeus strike them and slay them 

with his bolt outside of our walls. 630 

Lo, now, the seventh at the seventh gate 

I shall unfold — your own, your very brother 

Hear how he curses the city and what fate 

he invokes upon her He prays that once his feet 

are set upon her walls, once he is proclaimed 

a conqueror of this land, once he has cried 

paean of triumph in its overthrow, 

he then may close m fight with you and killing 

may find his death beside your corpse. 

« 284 » 


Or if you live, that he may banish you — 
in the selfsame way as you dishonored him — 
to exile. So he shouts and calls the Gods 
of his race and of his fatherland to witness 
his prayers — a very violent Polyneices 
He bears a new-made, rounded shield 
and a twofold device contrived thereon" 
a woman leading modestly a man 
conducts him, pictured as a warrior, 
wrought all in gold She claims she is Justice, 
and the mscription reads. I will bring him home 
and he shall have his city and shall walk 
in his ancestral house 

Such are the signs 
But you yourself determine whom to send. 
You shall not find a fault m my report- 
but you determine how to steer the state. 


Our race, our race, the race of Oedipus, 

by the Gods maddened, by them greatly hated; 

alas, my father's curses are now fulfilled' 

But for me no crying and no lamentation 

lest even sorer sorrow be begotten 

I tell you, Polyneices, so well named, 

soon we shal^ know the pertinence of your sign, 

whether your golden characters on the shield, 

babblmg, m wdd distraction of the mind, 

will mdeed bring you home. This might have been, 

if Justice, Zeus's virgm daughter had stood 

by his actions and his mind But in his flight 

out of the darkness of his mother's womb, 

in his growth as a child, in his young manhood, 

m the first gathermg of his chin's hair — ^no, never 

did Justice look upon him nor regard him. 

I do not think that now he comes to outrage 


this &therland of his she will stand his ally, 

or else she is called falsely Justice, joining 

with a man whose mind conceives no limit m villainy 

In this I trust and to the conflict with him 

I'll go myself What other has more right' 

King against king, and brother against brother, 

foe against foe we'll fight 

Bring me my greaves 
to shield me from the lances and the stones 

O dearest son of Oedipus, do not 
be like m temper to this utterer 
of dreadfiil sayings There are enough Cadmaeans 
to grapple with the Argives such blood is expiable 
But for the blood of brothers mutually shed 
there is no growing old of the pollution 

If a man suffer ill, let it be without shame, 
this IS the only gam when we are dead 
For deeds both evil and disgracefiil never 
will you say word of good 

What do you long for, child' 
Let not the frantic lust 
for battle, filling the heart 
carry you away. Expel 
the evil passion at its birth 

It IS the God that drives this matter on 
Since It IS SO — on, on with favoring wind 
this wave of hell that has engulfed for its share 
all km of Laius, whom Phoebus has so hated. 

Bitter-biting indeed 

is the passion that urges you 

« 286 » 


to accomplish manslaymg, 
bitter in firuit, 

where the blood to be shed is unlawful. 


Yes, for the hateful black 

curse of my father loved 

sits on my dry and tearless eyes 

and tells me first of gain and then of death. 


Resist Its urging, coward 

you shall not be called 

if you rule your life well. 

Forth from your house the black-robed Fury 

shall go, when from your hands 

the Gods shall receive a sacrifice. 

We are already past the care of Gods 
For them our death is the admirable offering 
Why then delay, fawning upon our doom' 

Not when the chance is yours — 
for m the veering change 
of spirit though late 
perhaps the God may change 
and come wJth kinder breath. 
Now his blast is full. 


The curse of Oedipus has fi.nned that blast. 
Too true the vision of sleepy nightmares 
showing division of my father's heritage 


Listen to women though you hke it not 

Speak then of what may be Nor should it be long 

« 287 » 



Go not you, go not, to the seventh gate 

No words of yours will blunt my whetted purpose 

Yet even bad victory the Gods hold m honor 

No soldier may endure to hear such words. 

Do you wish to reap as harvest a brother's blood? 

If Gods give ill, no man may shun their giving 


I shudder at the Goddess, 

unlike all other Gods, 

who compasses destruction of the house, 

utterly unforgettmg, prophet of ill, 

the Fury invoked by a father's curse. 

I dread that it brmg to pass 

the furious mvocations 

of Oedipus astray in his mind 

This strife, death to his sons, spurs it on. 

A stranger grants them land-allotment, 
a Chalyb, Scythian colonist, 
a bitter divider of possessions — 
iron-hearted Steel 

Yes, he has allotted them land to dwell m 
as much as the dead may possess 
no share theirs of their broad acres 

When they die with mutual hand 
mutually slaughtering 
and earth's dust shall drmk 
black clotted murder-blood, 

« 28S » 


who shall then give purification, 
who shall wash away the stam' 

0 new evils of the house, 
new mingled with the old 

Old IS the tale of sin I tell 

but swift in retribution: 

to the third generation it abides 

Thrice in Pythian prophecies 

given at Navel-of-Earth 

Apollo had directed 

King Laius all issueless to die 

and save his city so . . 

but he was mastered by loving folly y^o 

and begot for himself a doom, 

father-murdering Oedipus, 

who sowed his mother's sacred womb, 

whence he had sprung himself, 

with bloody root, to his heartbreak 

Madness was the coupler 

of this distracted pair. 

Now, as It were, a sea 
drives on the wave: 

one sinks, another rises, 760 

triple-creste'i around the prow 

of the city, and breaks m foam. 

Our defense between is but a httle thmg 

no bigger than a wall m width. 

1 fear that with our princes 
our city be subdued. 

For heavy is the settlement 

of ancient curses, to fulfilment brought. 

That evil when fulfilled 

passes not away. 

« 289 » 


Prosperity grown over fat 
of men, gain seeking, 
compels jettisoning 
of all goods, utterly 

What man has earned such admiration 
of Gods and men that shared his city 
and of the general throng of mortal men, 
as Oedipus — ^who ever had such honor 
as he that from his land had banished 
the Sphinx, that ate men up' 

But when in misery he knew 

the meanmg of his dreadful marriage, 

in pain distraught, m heart distracted 

he brought a double sorrow to fulfilment. 

With patricidal hand 

he reft himself of eyes 

that dearer to him were than his own children. 

And on those children savage 

maledictions he launched 

for their cruel tendance of him 

and wished they might divide 

with iron-wielding hand his own possessions. 

And now I fear 

that nimble-footed Fury bring those wishes to fulfilment. 

Take heart, you mother's darlings, this your city 
has escaped the yoke of slavery Fallen 
are the vauntings of the monstrous men. 
Our city IS m smooth water and though many 
the assaults of the waves, has shipped no sea 
Our wall still stands protecting us, our gate? 
we barricaded with trustworthy champions. 
For the most part all is well — at six of the gates. 
The seventh the Lord Apollo, Captain of Sevens,* 
* "Captam of Sevens" is an anaent cult tide of Apollo, 

« 290 » 


took to himself, on Oedipus' race 
he has fulfilled Laius' ancient follies 

What new and evil thing concerns the city' 

The city is saved, but the twin princes — 

Who'' What do you mean' Through fear of your words I 


Get your wits and hear Oedipus' two sons — 

Alas, alas, the ills I prophesied 


In very truth, crushed to the ground 


They lie there' Bitter though it be, yet speak 

The men have fellen, one another's killers 

Did brother's hands achieve a mutual murder' 

The ground has drunk the blood shed each by each 

So all too equal was their guiding spirit 

Surely he destroys this most unlucky race. 

Here is store of sorrow and joy at once. 

The city has good fortune, but its lords, 

the two generals, have divided the possessions 

with hammered steel of Scythia They shall have 

what land suffices for a grave, swept thither 

down the wind of their father's ill-boding curses 

« 291 » 



O great Zeus and Spirits that guard 

the city, you Protectors 

that guard our walls 

shall I rejoice, shall I cry aloud 

for our city's safety' 

or for those wretched ones, luckless and childless, 

our generals, shall I lament? 

They have earned their name too well 

and "men of strife" they have perished 830 
through impious intent 

0 black curse consummated 

on the race, the curse of Oedipus ' 
An evil chill assails my heart 

1 raise the dirge at the tomb 
hke a Bacchanal, hearing 

of their blood-drippmg corpses, 
of their lU-fated death 
Ill-omened indeed 
IS this melody of the Spear. 

It has worked to an end, not felled, 840 

the curses called on them by their father of old. 

The decisions of Laius, wanting m feith, 

have had efiect till now 

My heart is troubled for the city, 

divme warnings are not blunted 

O full of sorrows, this you have done 

a deed beyond belief. 

Woes worthy of groaning 

have come in very truth. 

(The bodies of the princes are carried in, escorted 
by their two sisters, Ismene and Antigone.) 
Here is visible evidence of the messenger's tale. 
Twofold our griefs and double 

« 292 » 


the ills these two men wrought, 

double the fated sorrow 

now brought to fulfilment 

What shall I say but that 

here sorrows, sorrows' children, 

abide at the hearth of the house' 

But, my friends, down the wind of groans 

with hands that beat the head 

ply the speeding stroke 

which sends through Death's waters 

the dark-sailed ship of mission 

to the shore, untrodden by Apollo, and sunless, 

the shore unseen, that welcomes all at last 

Here they come to their bitter task, 

Ismene and Antigone, 

to make the dirge for their brothers. 

With true sincerity, I think, 

from their deep bosoms, 

they shall utter a song of grief that fits the cause 

Us It concerns to smg, 

before their song, 

the ill-sosnding Furies' dirge, 

and the hateful Hades paean. 

0 most luckless of all women 

that fasten tjne girdle about their robes, 

1 cry, I groan: there is no guile 

in my heart to check my true dirge 
Antigone (speaking over the bodies) 

O you misguided ones, 

i&ithless to friends, unwearied in evil, 

you who plimdered your Other's house 

to your misery, with the spear. 

Wretched mdeed those who wretched death 
have found to the ruin of their house. 

« 293 » 



O you that tore the roof 
from our house, you that ghmpsed 
the bitter sovereignty, at last 
you are reconciled — by the sword 


Too truly has that dread spirit, 
the Fury of Oedipus, 
brought all this to fulfilment. 

Stricken through the left sides 
stricken indeed, 

through sides born of a common mother 
Alas, strange ones, 
alas for the curse 
of death that answered death! 

A straight thrust to house and body 
delivered by unspeakable vinrath, 
by the doom invoked by a father's curse, 
which they shared without discord 

Through the city the cry of weepmg, 
the walls groan aloud; 
the plam that loved them groans aloud. 
There abide for their descendants 
the possessions for which 
their bitter fate was paid, 
for which their strife arose, 
for which they found the end of death. 

In bitterness of heart they shared 

their possessions m equaUty. 

no blame from friends 

has their arbitrator, 

Ares, impartial to both sides. 

« 294 » 



By the stroke of the sword they are as they are 
By the stroke of the sword there awaits them — what' 
The share in their ancestral tomb, says someone 

A shrill cry escorts them from their house, 
a cry heartrending, 
a cry for its own griefs, its own woes, 
m anguish of mind with no thought of joy, 
weeping tears from a heart that breaks, 
for these our two princes 

One may say over the bodies 
of this unhappy pair. 

much they have done to their fellow citizens, 
and much to all the ranks of foreigners 
who died m this destructive war 

Unlucky she that bore them 
above all womankind 
that are called by a mother's name 
She took'^s husband her own child 
and bore these who have died 
their brotherly hands working each other's murder. 

Brotherly indeed m utter destruction 
in unkindly severance, 
in frantic strife, 
in the ending of their quarrel. 

Their enmity is ended, in the earth 
blood-drenched their hfe is mingled 
Very brothers are they now. 
Bitter the reconciler of dieir feud, 
stranger from over the sea. 

« 295 X 


sped hither by the fire, 
whetted steel 

A bitter and evil divider of possessions, 
Ares, who made their father's curse 
a thing of utter truth 

They have their share, unhappy ones 
of Zeus given sorrows 
beneath their bodies, earth 
in fathomless wealth shall lie. 
Chorus (speaking over the bodies) 
You who have made your race 
blossom with many woes 
over you at last have cried 
the Curses their shrill lament, 
and the race is turned to confusion and rout 
The trophy of Destruction stands 
at the gates where they were smitten 
and conqueror of the two 
the Spirit at last has come to rest 

[The dirge proper The sisters stand each at the head 

of one of the corpses ) 


You smote and were smitten. 

You killed and were slam 

By the spear you killed 

By the spear you died 

Wretched m acting. 

Wretched in suffering 

« 296 » 



Let the groans go forth 

Let the tears fall 

You lie in death — 

having killed — 
Anttgone and Ismene 

Woe, woe 

My mind is distraught with groans 

With groans my heart is full 

Alas, alas, creature of tears. 

Alas, again, all-miserable 

By a loving hand you died 

And killed one that loved you 

A double sorrow to relate. 

A double sorrow to see 

Two sorrows hard by one another 

Brother's sorrow close to brother's 

O wretched Fate, giver of heaviness, 
awful shade of Oedipus, 

« 297 » 


black Fury, 

venly a spmt mighty in strength ' 
Ismene and Antigone 

Woe, woe. 

Evils unfit to look upon — 

have you shown after banishment. 

He came not back when he had slain 

This one saved, lost his own kfe 

This one died — 

and killed the other 

Race unhappy. 

Deed unhappy. 

Grievous sorrows of kindred. 

Grievous, thrice grievous sorrow 

O wretched Fate, giver of heaviness, 
awful shade of Oedipus, 
black Fury, 

verily a spirit mighty in strength 

You have learned the lesson by experience 

And you have learned it, no whit later. 

oc 298 V 



When you returned to the city — 

yes, to face him with your spear. 

Deadly to tell 

Deadly to see 

Pam — 



To house and land — 

and most of all to me. 

O unhappy king of sorrow! 

O of all most rich in pain! 

Where shall we lay them in the earth' 

Where theii; honor is greatest. 

O brothers possessed by evil spirits, in doom — 

that will sleep by the side of their Ether to his hurt. 

It is my duty to declare to you, 
counselors of the people, the resolves 
already taken and the present pleasure 
of this Cadmaean city. . . . 

« 299 » 


Our Lord Eteocles for his loyalty 
It IS determined to bury in the earth 
that he so loved Fighting its enemies 
he found his death here In the sight 
of his ancestral shrines he is pure and blameless 
and died where young men die right honorably 
These are my instructions to communicate 
with respect to him. His brother Polyneices, 
or rather his dead body, you must cast out 
unburied, for the dogs to drag and tear 
as fits one who would have destroyed our country 
had not some God proved obstacle to his spear 
Even in death he shall retain this guilt 
against his Gods ancestral whom he dishonored 
when he brought his foreign host here for invasion 
and would have sacked the city. So it is resolved 
that he shall have, as his penalty, a burial 
granted dishonorably by the birds of the air 
and that no raising of a mound by hand 
attend him nor observance of keening dirge 
Unhonored shall his fianeral be by firiends. 
This IS the pleasure of the Cadmaean state. 

So I to the Cadmaean magistrates 

declare: if no one else wiU dare to join me 

in burymg hun, yet will I bury him 

and take the danger on my head alone 

when that is done. He is my brother. I 

am not ashamed of this anarchic act 

of disobedience to the city. Strange, 

a strange thing is the common blood we spring from — 

a mother wretched, a fiither doomed to evil. 

Willingly then with one that would not will it, 

hve spirit with dead man in sisterhood 

« 300 » 


I shall bear my share His flesh 
the hollow-bellied wolves shall never taste of. 
Let that be no one's "pleasure or decree." 
His tomb and burying place I will contrive 
though but a woman In the bosom folds 
of my linen robe I shall carry earth to him 
And I shall cover him let no one determine 
the contrary Be of good cheer {to her sister), I shall 
find means to bring my will to pass. 

I forbid 

this act, defiance of the city's pleasure 

I forbid you your superfluous proclamations 

Harsh is the people now that danger's past. 

Harsh truly. But he shall not go unburied 

Him the state hates, will you grace with a tomb' 

Long since the Gods determined of his honor. 

Not till he cast in peril this land of ours. 

He suffered ill and gave back what he suffered 

This deed of his was aimed at all, not one 

Last of the Gods Contention ends her tale. 
But I shall bury him- spare me long speech. 


Have your own way. but I forbid the act. 

« 301 » 


Alas, alas. 

O high-vauntmg, rum to the race 

fatal Funes, who have destroyed 

the race of Oedipus so utterly — 

What will happen me' What shall I do? 

What shall I plan? 

How shall I be so heartless, 

not to mourn for you, 

not to give escort to your funeral? 

But I fear the dreadful authority io6o 

of the people- I am turned from my purpose. 
(To the body of Eteodes) 

Many mourners you shall win- 
(To the body of Polyneices) 

But this poor wretch unwept 

save for his sister's single dirge 

shall go his road Who would yield 

so much obedience as this? 

[The Chorus divides in two ) 

First Half-Chorus 

Let the state do or not 

what It will to the mourners of Polyneices 

We will go and bury hun; 

we will go as his escort. 

This grief is common to the race 1070 
but now one way and now another 
the city approves the path of justice 
Second Half-Chorus 

But we will go with the other, as the city 
and Justice jointly approve. 

For after the Blessed Ones and the strength of Zeus 
he is the one who saved the city 
from utter destruction, from being overwhelmed 
by the wave of foreign invaders 

« 2,02 t> 


Translated and with an Introduction by 


In thb eighteenth century the critics knew what they thought 
about the Prometheus of Aeschylus and knew why they thought it. 
It was a bad play because the structure was episodic, the characters 
extravagant and improbable, the diction uncouth and wild. Their 
handbook of criticism was the Poetics of Aristotle, either directly or 
indirectly drawn upon. And it is plain that the Aeschylean play does 
not measure up to Aristotelian standards Since the eighteenth- 
century critics beheved there was only one canon for drama, rooted 
in the principles of Aristotle, they quite reasonably judged the 
Prometheus a bad play. During the nineteenth century, with the 
Romantic revival and the breakdown of the so-called "classical" 
rules of the drama, the Prometheus was acclaimed by the critics as a 
great work of art But they so acclaimed it entirely m terms of its 
theme or its poetry and in the same breath spoke of the greatness of 
Sophocles' Oedipus, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Goethe's Faust. 
There was no effort to discover what m the nature of Aefchylus' 
dramatic method set him so apart from Sophocles that the eighteenth- 
century CTitics had refiised to recognize his merit Nor did they sift 
the striking differences which exist between the Prometheus and any 
of the Shakespearean tragedies or Faust. They contented inemselves 
with vague and not entirely satisfied references to the Prometheus as 
a study-drama rather than a play for the theater. 

Of the three dramatists, Aeschylus perhaps appears for a modern 
reader the most provocative and the most enigmatic. There is so 
much in the Oresteia, for instance, and particularly m the Agamem- 
non, which appeals directly to our sense of the theater and dramatic 
poetry. And yet the conclusion with its stress on an obscure theo- 
logical point and its very local emphasis on the court of the Areop- 
agus baffles our awakened interest. But m no play of Aeschylus is a 

« 304 » 


reader today so aware at the same time of the directness and um- 
versahty of the theme and also of the purely Greek, and indeed 
purely fifth-century, imphcations of it as in the Prometheus. The re- 
marks that follow constitute only one more attempt among many to 
assist readers who are not classical scholars to a more complete 
understanding of a very great and very puzzling play. 

For Aeschylus the myth is the illustration of a great permanent 
truth that he finds at the heart of man's activity. His dramatic 
imagination seizes on such truths as are most frequently a compro- 
mise between two opposites, and consequently the myths he uses 
most are those which tell of conflict on a cosmic scale and conflict 
ultimately laid by some concessions on the part of both combatants. 
To make myth universally significant, both characters and plot must 
correspond symbolically with characters and plot on one or more 
levels in addition to the myth in which they are imbedded. 

In the Prometheus, the probability is not m the action or the condi- 
tions the dramatist has stated for us before the play commences. It 
consists in setting forth a very simple story, one which comes from 
a common stock of mythological stones known to almost aE, and 
frismg this with a number of other patterns known to almost aE. 
Everybody m Greece knew the legend of the Titan who stole fire 
from heaven to give it to man. But everybody m Greece also knew 
the story of Peisistratus, the tyrant of Athens, or Lygdamis, the 
tyrant of Naxos, or Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos. They knew the 
kmd of outrage citizens had sufiered at their hands, the innovations 
in establiihed custom and ritual and in the conventional govern- 
mental attitudes of mercy, the "unwritten laws." Thus when the 
Prometheus-Zeus conflict is represented also as the rebel versus tyrant 
conflict. It has been invested with a new probability. And men 
everywhere have felt, some obscurely and some clearly, an opposi- 
tion between the animal and the spirit in man, between violence and 
persuasion, between might and intellect. So when the Zeus-Lygda- 
mis versus Prometheus-rebel struggle is represented as another &cet 
of the conflict between the two most powerful fictors in human life 
— brute force and mind — the story has been invested with a new 

« 305 » 


probability drawn from the community of man's experience And 
men everywhere have known the torture of subjugation to a stronger 
force than themselves, have known the helplessness of persuasion 
against force, and yet have beheved in the ultimate triumph of 
persuasion And so, when the suffenng Prometheus cries out in his 
helplessness and his knowledge, and doubts yet feels certam of the 
outcome, the story has been mvested with a new probability drawn 
from the community of man's experience. The original story of 
Zeus and Prometheus is like a stone thrown into a quiet pool, 
where the npples spread in wider and wider circles. 

Methods hke the Aeschylean, developed to varying degrees of 
complexity, are familiar m other forms of literature. The degree of 
complexity is determined by the number of levels of meaning 
mvolved. For instance, in the Pilgrims Progress, there is only one 
meaning in the tale apart from the highly dramatic story of Chris- 
tian's journey, and that is the progress of the Christian soul toward 
the Eternal City But, in the Prometheus, Aeschylus has made his 
story significant on a number of different levels, though each level 
involves the conflict of two opposing pnnaples. For Prometheus is, 
pohtically, the symbol of the rebel against the tyrant who has over- 
thrown the traditional rule of Justice and Law. He is the symbol of 
Knowledge against Force. He is symbohcally the champion of man, 
raismg him through the gift of inteUigence, against the would-be 
destroyer of man. Finally, there is a level at which Prometheus is 
symbohcally Man as opposed to God. /' 

We are never told in this play why Zeus wished to deSIroy man. 
There is no indication vvhat sort of animal he wished to put in his 
place; but, inso&r as Prometheus in disobedience to Zeus enlight- 
ened man by the gift of mtelhgence, it may be assumed that Zeus's 
creation would have had no such dangerous potentialities of de- 
velopment This first attempt to destroy mankind is almost certainly 
the flood of Deucalion, of which we hear elsewhere, and there is a 
tradition to the effect that Prometheus counseled Deucalion to the 
building of the ark which preserved him and his family. The second 

« 306 » 


action in Prometheus' rescue of man from the enmity of the world 
in which he found himself is even more significant "I stopped 
mortals from foreseeing doom," says Prometheus. 

Chorus What cure did you provide them with against that sickness' 
Prometheus I placed in them blind hopes 
Chorus- That was a great gift you gave to men. 

As the rest of his gifts to man are all concerned with enhghten- 
ment, and, indeed, as fire itself becomes a symbol of that enhghten- 
ment, this gift of "bhnd hopes" seems at first strange Yet it is quite 
consistent There is a passage in the Gorgias which is illummating 
here We are told that in the days of Kronos and when Zeus was 
newly king, men were informed as to the day of their death and 
were judged ahve, with all their clothes on and their possessions 
about them, by hve judges This was a practice which brought much 
injustice, says Plato, and Zeus ultimately ordered it otherwise. 
Plato is using the myth for the illustration of his own theme, and we 
must not be surprised that his picture of the development of man 
when this was the state of things does not accord with that of 
Aeschylus But the dating in the case of Plato shows either that he 
and Aeschylus were drawing on the same myth or else that Plato is 
borrowing from Aeschylus "In the days of Kronos and when Zeus 
was ne^ly king " What, then, is the meaning of the bhnd hopes 
which were the compensation for man's loss of knowledge of his 
death and yet left him able to use his reason to build houses and yoke 
horses and invent cures for sickness' 

Prometheus is wise m the wisdom of his mother Themis, or 
Earth, and consequently wise in the knowledge of destiny. This is 
not reason. It is absolute knowledge. The knowledge of the day of 
a man's death partakes of that quahty, for it is in the province of 
destiny. Thus man at the beginning had an infinitely small particle 
of the same kind of knowledge which Prometheus enjoyed m large 
measure. Just as animals today seem to have a curious intuition of the 
coming of their death and crawl away into hiding to fece it, so 
primitive man had this knowledge And Prometheus caused them 

« 307 » 


to cease to foreknow the day of their death.^For the gift of reason, 
the supreme ally in their struggle against nature, made them fight 
on against death in "blind hope," even when the day of their death 
had come It is worth noticing here that, of the two accounts of 
man's origins in the world — the one that of a golden age of material 
and moral perfection and the other of miserable ignorance and 
helplessness — Aeschylus has preferred the scientific tradition But 
he has chosen to incorporate in his account a grain of the truth of 
the former. The very small particle of absolute knowledge which 
man possessed was a spark of the dmne. The fire itself Prometheus' 
greatest and most celebrated gift to man, is a symbol of practical, 
not speculative, reason And nowhere does Aeschylus assert that 
such speculative reason in its fiiU will ever be m man's possession 

There is a sense in which Prometheus m this play appeals directly 
to the human sympathies of his audience because though a Titan 
and a God his helplessness before Zeus places him on the same 
level with mortals It is the story of the man-god who must suffer for 
his kmdness to man by having his state equated with theirs In the 
case of Prometheus the good achieved for man is achieved before 
the suffering — which comes in the nature of a punishment. The cry 
of Prometheus — 

I knew when I transgressed nor will deny it 
In helping man I brought my troubles on me; 
but yet I did not thmk that with such tortures 
I should be wasted on these airy cliSs — 

is the cry of one who is man enough to be weak under pain. Pro- 
metheus, though possessed of a knowledge of destiny and therefore 
of victory in the end, is for the present at the mercy of a brutal and 
Ignorant opponent So, too, is the mortal lo. So are all the mortals 
over whom Death holds power against which they fight with "blind 
hopes." Finally, Prometheus' dehverance by Heracles, who is part 
god and part man, once agam binds his isAt to the creature whom he 
has helped to survive in the teeth of the opposition of the supreme 

« 308 » 



Violence (muta persona) 






Chorus of daughters of Oceanos 


Scene: A bare and desolate crag in the Caucasus Enter Might and 
Violence, demons, servants of Zeus, and Hephaestus, the smith. 


This IS the world's htnit that we have come to; this is the Scythian 
country, an untrodden desolation Hephaestus, it is you that must 
heed the commands the Father laid upon you to nail this malefec- 
tor to the high craggy rocks m fetters unbreakable of adamantine 
chain For it was your flower, the brightness of fire that devises 
all, that he stole and gave to mortal men; this is the sin for which 
he must pay the Gods the penalty — that he may learn to endure 
and like the sovereignty of Zeus and quit his man-loving dis- 


Might and Violence, m you the command of Zeus has its perfect 
fulfilment: m you there is nothmg to stand m its way. But, for 
myself, I have not the heart to bind violently a God who is my km 
here on this wintry chfF. Yet there is constraint upon me to have 
the heart for just that, for it is a dangerous thmg to treat the 
Father's words hghtly. 

High-contri\mig Son of Themis of Straight Counsel- this is not of 
your wiU nor of mme; yet I shall nail you in bonds of indissoluble 
bronze on this crag &r firom men. Here you shall hear no voice 
of mortal; here you shall see no form of mortal. You shall be 
grilled by the sun's bright fire and change the fair bloom of your 
skin. You shall be glad when Night comes with her mantle of 
stars and hides the sun's light; but the sun shall scatter the hoar- 
firost agam at dawn. Always the grievous burden of your tortare 
will be there to wear you down; for he that shall cause it to cease 
has yet to be bom. 

< 3" » 


Such IS the reward you reap of your man-lovmg disposition For 
you, a God, feared not the anger of the Gods, but gave honors to 
mortals beyond what was just Wherefore you shall mount guard 
on this unlovely rock, upright, sleepless, not bending the knee. 
Many a groan and many a lamentation you shall utter, but they 
shall not serve you For the mind of Zeus is hard to soften with 
prayer, and every ruler is harsh whose rule is new. 

Come, why are you holding back'' Why are you pitying in vain? 
Why is It that you do not hate a God whom the Gods hate most 
of all'' Why do you not hate him, since it was your honor that he 
betrayed to men? 

Our kinship has strange power; that, and our life together. 

Yes. But to turn a deaf ear to the Father's words — how can that 
be' Do you not fear that more' 

You are always pitiless, always full of ruthlessness. 

There is no good singing dirges over him Do not labor uselessly 
at what helps not at all. 

0 handicraft of mine — that I deeply hate! 

Why do you hate it? To speak simply, your craft is m no way the 
author of his present troubles. 

Yet would another had had this craft allotted to him. 

There is nothmg without discomfort except the overlordship of 
the Gods For only Zeus is free. 

1 know, I have no answer to this. 

« 312 » 



Hurry now. Throw the chain around him that the Father may not 
look upon your tarrying. 

There are the fetters, there: you can see them. 

Put them on his hands* strong, now with the hammer, strike 
Nail him to the rock 


It IS being done now. I am not idhng at my work 

Hammer it more; put m the wedge; leave it loose nowhere. He's a 
cunnmg fellow at findmg a way even out of hopeless difSculties 


Look now, his arm is fixed immovably! 

Nail the other safe, that he may learn, for all his cleverness, that 
he IS duller witted than Zeus. 


No one, save Prometheus, can justly blame me. 

Drive the obstmate jaw of the adamantine wedge right through 
his breast: dnve it hard. 

Alas, Prometheus, I groan for your sufferings. 

Are you pitying again? Are you groaning for the enemies of 
Zeus? Have a care, lest some day you may be pitying yourself 


You see a sight that hurts the eye. 


I see this rascal gettmg his deserts. Throw the girdi around his 

« 313 » 



I am forced to do this; do not keep urging me. 

Yes, I will urge you, and hound you on as well. Get below now, 
and hoop his legs in strongly. 


There now, the task is done. It has not taken long. 

Hammer the piercing fetters with all your power, for the Over- 
seer of our work is severe 


Your looks and the refrain of your tongue are alike. 

You can be softhearted. But do not blame my stubbornness and 
harshness of temper. 


Let us go He has the harness on his limbs 
Might (to Prometheus) 

Now, play the insolent; now, plunder the Gods' privileges and 
give them to creatares of a day What drop of your suffermgs can 
mortals spare you? The Gods named you wrongly when they 
called you Forethought; you yourself Meet? Forethought to extri- 
cate yourself from this contrivance. 

(Prometheus is left alone on thz rock ) 


Bright hght, swifi-winged winds, springs of the rivers, number- 

laughter of the sea's waves, earth, mother of all, and the all-seeing 

circle of the sun: I call upon you to see what I, a God, suffer 

at the hands of Gods — 

see with what kind of torture 

worn down I shall wrestle ten thousand 

years of time — 

« 314 » 


such IS the despiteful bond that the Prince 

has devised against me, the new Prince 

of the Blessed Ones Oh woe is me ' 

I groan for the present sorrow, 

I groan for the sorrow to come, I groan 

questioning when there shall come a time 

when He shall ordain a limit to my sufferings 

What am I saying? I have known all before, 

all that shall be, and clearly known; to me, 

nothing that hurts shall come with a new 6.ce 

So must I bear, as lightly as I can, 

the destmy that fete has given me, 

for I know well against necessity, 

against its strength, no one can fight and win 

I cannot speak about my fortune, cannot 

hold my tongue either. It was mortal man 

to whom I gave great privileges and 

for that was yoked in this unyielding harness 

I hunted out the secret sprmg of fire, 

that filled the narthex stem, which when revealed 

became the teacher of each crafi: to men, 

a great resource. This is the sm committed 

for which I stand accountant, and I pay 

nailed in my chains under the open sky 

Ah! Ah! 

What sound, what sightless smell approaches me, 

God sent, or mortal, or mingled? 

Has It come to earth's end 

to look on my suffermgs, 

or what does it wish' 

You see me a wretched God in chains, 

the enemy of Zeus, hated of all 

the Gods that enter Zeus's palace hall, 

because of my excessive love for Man. 

« 315 » 


What IS that? The rustle 

of birds' wmgs near' The air whispers 

with the gentle strokes of wmgs. 

Everything that comes toward me is occasion for fear 

[The Chorus, composed of the daughters ofOceanos, entets, 
the members wearing some formahzed representation of 
wingi, so that their general appearance is hndhke ) 


Fear nof this is a company of friends 
that comes to your mountain with swift 
rivalry of wings 

Hardly have we persuaded our Father's 
mind, and the quick-bearing winds 
speeded us hither The sound 
of stroke of bronze rang through our cavern 
m Its depths and it shook from us 
shamefaced modesty, unsandaled 
we have hastened on our chariot of wmgs 

Alas, children of teeming Tethys and of htm 
who encircles all the world with stream unsleeping, 
Father Ocean, 
look, see with what chains 
I am nailed on the craggy heights 
of this gully to keep a watch 
that none would envy me. 

I see, Prometheus and a mist of fear and tears 

besets my eyes as I see your form 

wasting away on these cliffs 

m adamantine bonds of bitter shame. 

For new are the steersmen that rule Olympus- 

and new are the customs by which Zeus rules, 

customs that have no law to them, 

but what was great before he brings to nothingness. 

« 316 » 



Would that he had hurled me 
underneath the earth and underneath 
the House of Hades, host to the dead — 
yes, down to hmitless Tartarus, 
yes, though he bound me cruelly 
m chains unbreakable, 
so neither God nor any other being 
might have found joy m gloating over me. 
Now as I hang, the plaything of the wmds, 
my enemies can laugh at what I suffer 


Who of the Gods is so hard of heart igo 

that he finds joy in this? 

Who is that that does not feel 

sorrow answering your pam — 

save only Zeus' For he mahgnantly, 

always cherishing a mmd 

that bends not, has subdued the breed 

of Uranos, nor shall he cease 

until he satisfies his heart, 

or someont take the rule firom him — that hard-to-capture rule — 
by some device of subtlety. 


Yes, there sli^ll come a day for me 

when he shall need me, me that now am tortured 

m bonds and fetters — ^he shall need me then, 

this president of the Blessed — 170 

to show the new plot whereby he may be spoiled 

of his throne and his power. 

Then not with honeyed tongues 

of persuasion shall he enchant me; 

he shall not cow me with his threats 

to tell hun what I know, 

« 317 » 


until he free me from my cruel chams 
and pay me recompense for what I suffer 


You are stout of heart, unyielding 

to the bitterness of pain 

You are free of tongue, too free 

It IS my mind that piercing fear has fluttered, 

your misfortunes frighten me 

Where and when is it fated 

to see you reach the term, to see you reach 

the harbor free of trouble at the last' 

A disposition none can win, a heart 

that no persuasions soften — these are his, 

the Son of Kronos 

I know that he is savage and his justice 

a thing he keeps by his own standard still 

that will of his shall melt to softness yet 

when he is broken in the way I know, 

and though his temper now is oaken hard 

It shall be softened: hastily he'll come 

to meet my haste, to join m amity 

and union with me — one day he shall come. 

Reveal it all to us. tell us the story of what the charge was on 
which Zeus caught you and punished you so cruelly with such dis- 
honor. Tell us, if the telling will not injure you in any way 

To speak of this is bitterness To keep silent 
bitter no less, and every way is misery 

When first the Gods began their angry quarrel, 
and God matched God in rising faction, some 
eager to drive old Kronos from his throne 
that Zeus might rule — the fools! — others again 


earnest that Zeus might never be their king — 

I then with the best counsel tried to wm 

the Titans, sons of Uranos and Earth, 

but failed. They would have none of crafty schemes 

and in their savage arrogance of spirit 

thought they would lord it easily by force 

But she that was my mother, Themis, Earth — 

she IS but one although her names are many — 

had prophesied to me how it should be, 

even how the fates decreed it: and she said 

that "not by strength nor overmastering force 

the fates allowed the conquerors to conquer 

but by guile only" This is what I told them, 

but they would not vouchsafe a glance at me 

Then with those things before me it seemed best 

to take my mother and jom Zeus's side 

he was as willing as we were. 

thanks to my plans the dark receptacle 

of Tartarus conceals the ancient Kronos, 

him and his allies These were the services 

I rendered to this tyrant and these pams 

the payment he has given me m requital 

This IS a sickness rooted and inherent 

in the nature of a tyranny: 

that he that holds it does not trust his friends 

But you have asked on what particular 
charge he now tortures me. this I will tell you. 
As soon as he ascended to the throne 
that was his father's, straightway he assigned 
to the several Gods their several privileges 
and portioned out the power, but to the unhappy 
breed of mankmd he gave no heed, intending 
to blot the race out and create a new. 
Against these plans none stood save T I dared. 

« 319 » 


I rescued men from shattering destruction 
that would have carried them to Hades' house, 
and therefore I am tortured on this rock, 
a bitterness to sufier, and a pain 

to pitiful eyes. I gave to mortal man 2 
a precedence over myself in pity I 
can win no pity pitiless is he 
that thus chastises me, a spectacle 
bringing dishonor on the name of Zeus. 

He would be iron-minded and made of stone, indeed, Prome- 
theus, who did not sympathize with your sufferings I would not 
have chosen to see them, and now that I see, my heart is pained. 


Yes, to my friends I am pitiable to see. 


Did you perhaps go fiirther than you have told us'' 

I caused mortals to cease foreseeing doom. 3< 

What cure did you provide them with against that sickness'' 

I placed m them blmd hopes. 

That was a great gift you gave to men. 

Besides this, I gave them fire. 

And do creatures of a day now possess bright-feced fire-' 

Yes, and from it they shall learn many crafts. 

Then these arc the charges on which — 

Zeus tortures me and gives me no respite. 

a 320 » 



Is there no limit set for your pain' 

None save when it shall seem good to Zeus 

How will It ever seem good to him' What hope is there' Do you 
not see how you have erred' It is not pleasure for me to say that 
you have erred, and for you it is a pain to hear But let us speak no 
more of all this and do you seek some means of deliverance from 
your trials 


It IS an easy thing for one whose foot 

IS on the outside of calamity 

to give advice and to rebuke the sufierer. 

I have known all that you have said I knew, 

I knew when I transgressed nor wiU deny it 

In helping man I brought my troubles on me; 

but yet I did not think that with such tortures 

I should be wasted on these airy ckfFs, 

this lonely mountam top, with no one near. 

But do not ^orrow for my present suffering; 

alight on earth and hear what is to come 

that you may know the whole complete. I beg you 

ahght and jom your sorrow with rmne' misfortune 

wandering the same track lights now upon one 

and now upon another. 


Willing our ears, 
that hear you cry to them, Prometheus, 
now with hght foot I leave the rushing car 
and sky, the holy path of birds, and hght 
upon this jutting rock- 1 long 
^o hear your story to the end. 

{Enter Oceanos, riding on a hippocamp, or sea-monster.) 

n 121 » 



I come 

on a long journey, speeding past the boundaries. 

to visit you, Prometheus, with the mmd 

alone, no bridle needed, I direct 

my swift-winged bird , my heart is sore 

for your misfortunes, you know that. I think 

that It IS kinship makes me feel them so 

Besides, apart fropi kinship, there is no one 

I hold m higher estimation: that 

you soon shall know and know beside that m me 

there is no mere word-kmdness tell me 

how I can help you, and you will never say 

that you have any friend more loyal to you 

than Oceanos 


What do I see-" Have you, too, come to gape 

in wonder at this great display, my torture-" 

How did you have the courage to come here 

to this land, Iron-Mother, leavmg the stream 

called after you and the rock-roofed, self-established 

caverns? Was it to feast your eyes upon 

the spectacle of my suffering and join 

m pity for my pain'' Now look and see 

the sight, this friend of Zeus, that helped set up 

his tyranny and see what agonies 

twist me, by his instructions' 


Yes, I see, 
Prometheus, and I want, indeed I do, 
to advise you for the best, for all your cleveJrness. 
Know yourself and reform your ways to new ways, 
for new is he that rules among the Gods. 
But if you throw about such angry words, 

« 322 » 


words that are whetted swords, soon Zeus will hear 

even though his seat in glory is far removed, 

and then your present multitude of pains 

will seem like child's play My poor friend, give up 

this angry mood of yours and look for means 

of getting yourself free of trouble Maybe 

what I say seems to you both old and commonplace 

but this IS what you pay, Prometheus, for 

that tongue of yours which talked so high and haug 

you are not yet humble, still you do not yield 

to your misfortunes, and you vwsh, indeed, 

to add some more to them; now, if you follow 

me as a schoolmaster you will not kick 

against the pricks, seemg that he, the King, 

that rules alone, is harsh and sends accounts 

to no one's audit for the deeds he does 

Now I will go and try if I can free you 

do you be quiet, do not talk so much 

Since your mind is so subde, don't you know 

that a vain tongue is subject to correction' 


I envy you? that you stand clear of blame, 

yet shared and dared in everything with me' 

Now let me be, and have no care for me 

Do what you will. Him you will not persuade. 

He is not eas&y won over, look, 

take care lest coming here to me should hurt you 


You are by nature better at advising 

others than yourself I take my cue 

from deeds, not words Do not withhold me now 

when I am eager to go to Zeus I'm sure, 

I'm sure that he will grant this favor to me, 

to free you from your chains 

« 323 » 



I thank you and will never cease, for loyalty 

IS not what you are wanting in Don't trouble, 

for you will trouble to no purpose, and no help 

to me — ^if it so be you want to trouble. 

No, rest yourself keep away from this thing, 

because I am unlucky I would not, 

for that, have everyone unlucky too 

No, for my heart is sore already when 

I think about my brothers' fortunes — Atlas, 

who stands to westward of the world, supporting 

the pillar of earth and heaven on his shoulders, 

a load that suits no shoulders, and the earthborn 

dweller m caves Cilician, whom I saw 

and pitied, hundred-beaded, dreadful monster, 

fierce Typho, conquered and brought low by force 

Once against all the Gods he stood, opposing, 

hissing out terror from his grim jaws, his eyes 

flashed gorgon glaring lightning as he thought 

to sack the sovereign tyranny of Zeus; 

but upon him came the unsleeping bolt 

of Zeus, the lightnmg-breathing flame, down rushing, 

which cast him from his high aspiring boast 

Struck to the heart, his strength was blasted dead 

and burnt to ashes; now a sprawling mass 

useless he lies, hard by the narrow seaway 

pressed down beneath the roots of Aetna high 

above him on the mountain peak the smith 

Hephaestus works at the anvil. Yet one day 

there shall burst out rivers of fire, devouring 

with savage jaws the fertile, level plains 

of Sicily of the &ir fruits; such boihng wrath 

with weapons of fire-breathmg surf, a fiery 

unapproachable torrent, shall Typho vomit, 

though Zeus' s hghtning left him but a cinder 

« 3-^4 


But all of this you know you do not need me 
to be your schoolmaster reassure yourself 
as you know how this cup I shall dram myself 
till the high mind of Zeus shall cease from anger 

Do you not know, Prometheus, that words are healers of the 
sick temper' 


Yes, if in season due one soothes the heart with them, not tries 
violently to reduce the swelling anger 


Tell me, what danger do you see for me m loyalty to you, and 
courage therein' 


I see only useless effort and a silly good nature 

Suffer me then to be sick of this sickness, for it is a profitable 
thing, if one is wise, to seem foohsh 


This shall seem to be my fault 


Clearly your words send me home again 

Yes, lest yoitr doings for me bring you enmity. 

His enmity, who newly sits on the all-powerful throne' 

His IS a heart you should beware of vexing. 

Your own misfortune will be my teacher, Prometheus. 

Off" with you, then' Begone' Keep your present mmd. 

« 325 » 



These words £11 on very responsive cars Already my four-legged 
bird IS pawing the level track of Heaven with his wmgs, and he 
will be glad to bend the knee m his own stable 



I cry aloud, Prometheus, and lament your bit-'"er fate, 

my tender eyes are trickling tears" 400 

their fountains wet my cheek 

This IS a tyrant's deed; this is unlovely, 

a thing done by a tyrant's private laws, 

and with this thing Zeus shows his haughtiness 

of temper toward the Gods that were of old 


Now all the earth has cried aloud, lamenting 
now all that was magnificent of old 

laments your fall, laments your brethren's fall 410 

as many as in holy Asia hold 

their stablished habitation, all lament 

in sympathy for your most grievous woes 

Dwellers m the land of Colchis, 
maidens, fearless m the fight, 
and the host of Scythia, living 
round the lake Maeotis, hving 
on the edges of the world 


And Arabia's flower of warriors 420 
and the craggy fortress keepers 
near Caucasian mountains, fighters 
terrible, crying for battle, 
brandishing sharp pointed spears 

« 326 » 

«prometheus b o u n d », 

One God and one God only I have seen 

before this day, in torture and in bonds 

unbreakable: he was a Titan, 

Alas, whose strength and might 

ever exceeded, now he bends his back 

and groans beneath the load of earth and heaven 

The wave cries out as it breaks into surf, 
the depth cries out, lamenting you, the dark 
Plades, the hollow underneath the world, 
sullenly groans below, the springs 
of sacred flowing rivers all lament 
the pain and pity of your suffering 

'Do not think that out of pride or stubbornness I hold my peace, 
my heart is eaten away when I am aware of myself, when I see 
myself insulted as I am Who was it but I who m truth dispensed 
their honors to these new gods? I will say nothing of this, you 
know It all; but hear what troubles there were among men, how 
I found thefn witless and gave them the use of their wits and made 
them masters of their minds I will tell you this, not because I 
would blame men, but to explain the goodwill of my gift. For 
men at first had eyes but saw to no purpose; they had ears but did 
not hear. LiJe the shapes of dreams they dragged through their 
long lives and handled all things m bewilderment and confusion 
They did not know of building houses with bricks to fece the sun, 
they did not know how to work in wood They lived like swarm- 
ing ants m holes m the ground, m the sunless caves of the earth. 
For 'them there was no secure token by which to tell winter nor 
the flowering spring nor the summer with its crops, all their do- 
ings were indeed without intelligent calculation untd I showed 
them the rising of the stars, and the settmgs, hard to observe And 
further I discovered to them numbenng, pre-eminent among 

« 327 » 


subtle devices, and the combining of letters as a means of re- 460 
membenng all things, the Muses' mother, skilled m craft It was 
I who first yoked beasts for them m the yokes and made of those 
beasts the slaves of trace chain and pack saddle that they might be 
man's substitute in the hardest tasks, and I harnessed to the car- 
nage, so that they loved the rein, horses, the crowning pride of the 
rich man's luxury It was I and none other who discovered ships, 
the sail-driven wagons that the sea buffets Such were the con- 
trivances that I discovered for men — alas for me ' For I myself am 470 
without contrivance to rid myself of my present affliction 


What you have suffered is indeed terrible You are all astray and 
bewildered m your mmd, and hkc a bad doctor that has fallen sick 
himself, you are cast down and cannot find what sort of drugs 
would cure your ailment 


Hear the rest, and you will marvel even more at the crafts and 
resources I contrived Greatest was this in the former times if a 
man fell sick he had no defense against the sickness, neither heal- 
ing food nor drink, nor unguent, but through the lack of drugs 480 
men wasted away, until I showed them the blcndmg of ^mild 
simples wherewith they drive out all manner of diseases. It was 
I who arranged all the ways of seercraft, and I first adjudged 
what things come verily true from dreams, and to men I gave 
meaning to the ominous cries, hard to interpret. It was I vho set 
in order the omens of the highway and the flight of crookcd- 
taloned birds, which of them were propitious or lucky by na- 490 
ture, and what manner of hfc each led, and what were their 
mutual hates, loves, and companionships, also I taught of the 
smoothness of the vitals and what color they should have to 
pleasure the Gods and the dappled beauty of the gall and the lobe. 
It was I who burned thighs wrapped in fat and the long shank 
bone and set mortals on the road to this murky craft. It was I who 
made visible to men's eyes the flaming signs of the sky that were 

« 328 » 


before dim So much for these. Beneath the earth, man's hidden 
blessing, copper, iron, silver, and gold— will anyone claim to 
have discovered these before I did? No one, I am very sure, who 
wants to speak truly and to the purpose One brief word will tell 
the whole story, all arts that mortals have come from Prometheus 

Therefore do not help mortals beyond all expediency while neg- 
lecting yourself in your troubles For I am of good hope that once 
freed of these bonds you will be no less in power than Zeus 

Not yet has fete that brmgs to frilfilment determined these things 
to be thus I must be twisted by ten thousand pangs and agonies, 
as I now am, to escape my chains at last Craft is far weaker than 


Who then is the steersman of necessity? 

The triple-formed Fates and the remembering Furies 

Is Zeus weaker than these? 

Yes, for he, too, cannot escape what is feted 

What is fat^ for Zeus besides eternal sovereignty? 

Inquire of this no further, do not entreat me. 

This is some solemn secret, I suppose, that you are hiding 

Think of some other story, this one it is not yet the season to give 
tongue to, but it must be hidden with all care, for it is only by 
keeping it that I will escape my despitefril bondage and my agony_ 

« 329 » 



May Zeus never, Zeus that all 
the universe controls, oppose 
his power against my mind 
may I never dallying 
be slow to give my worship at 
the sacrificial feasts 
when the bulls are killed beside 
quenchless Father Ocean- 
may I never sm in word 
may these precepts still abide 
in my mind nor melt away 

It IS a sweet thing to draw out 
a long, long life in cheerful hopes, 
and feed the spirit in the bright 
benignity of happiness, 
but I shiver when I see you 
wasted with ten thousand pains, 
all because you did not tremble 
at the name of Zeus your mind 
was yours, not his, and at its bidding 
you regarded mortal men 
too high, Prometheus 


Kindness that cannot be requited, tell me, 

where is the help in that, my friend? What succor 

m creatures of a day? You did not see 

the feebleness that draws its breath in gasps, 

a dreamlike feebleness by which the race 

of man is held m bondage, a blind prisoner. 

So the plans of men shall never 

pass the ordered law of Zeus 

" 330 » 


This I have learned while I looked on your pains, 
deadly pains, Prometheus. 
A dirge for you came to my hps, so different 
from the other song I sang to crown your marriage 
m honor of your couching and your bath, 
upon the day you won her with your gifts 
to share your bed— of your own race she was, 
Hesione— and so you brought her home, 

(Enter lo, a girl wearing horns like an 

What land is this' what race of men' Who is it 

I see here tortured in this rocky bondage' 

What IS the sui he's paying for' Oh tell me 

to what part of the world my wanderings have brought me 

o, o, o, 

there it is again, there agam — it stings me, 

the gadfly, the ghost of earth-born Argos 

keep It away, keep it away, earth' 

I'm frightened when I see the shape of Argos, 

Argos the herdsman with ten thousand eyes. 

He stalks" me with his crafty eyes- he died, 

but the earth didn't hide him; still he comes 

even from the depths of the Underworld to hunt me: 

he drives me starving by the sands of the sea. 

The reed-woven pipe drones on in a hum 
and drones and drones its sleep-giving stram 

o, o, o, 

where are you bringing me, my far-wandering wanderings- 
Son of Kronos, what fault, what &ult 
did you find m me that you should yoke me 
to a harness of misery like this, 
that you should torture me so to madness 
driven in fear of the gadfly' 

« 331 » 


Bum me with fire hide me m earth- cast me away 

to monsters of the deep for food but do not 

grudge me the granting of this prayer, King. 

Enough have my much wandering wanderings 

exercised me I cannot find 

a way to escape my troubles. 

Do you hear the voice of the cow-horned maid' 


Surely I hear the voice, the voice of the maiden, gadfly-haunted, 
the daughter of Inachus' She set Zeus's heart on fire with love 
and now she is violently exercised runnmg on courses overlong, 
driven by Hera's hate 


How IS It you speak my Other's name' 

Tell me, who are you' Who are you? Oh 

who are you that so exactly accosts me by name' 

You have spoken of the disease that the Gods have sent to me 

which wastes me away, pricking with goads, 

so that I am moving always 

tortured and hungry, wild boundmg, 

quick sped I come, 

a victim of jealous plots. 

Some have been vrtetched 

before me, but who of these 

suffered as I do? 

But declare to me clearly 

what I have stdl to suffer: what would avail 

against my sickness, what drug would cure it: 

Tell me, if you know: 

tell me, declare it to the unlucky, wandering maid. 

I shall tell you clearly all that you would know, weaving you no 
riddles, but m plain words, as it is just to open the hps to firiends. 
You see before you him that gave fire to men, even Prometheus. 

« 332 » 



0 spirit that has appeared as a common blessmg to all men, un- 
happy Prometheus, why are you being punished? 


1 have just this moment ceased from the lamentable tale of my 


Will you then grant me this favor? 

Say what you are askmg for: I will tell you all. 


Tell who It was that nailed you to the cliff. 

The plan was the plan of Zeus, and the hand the hand of He- 


And what was the offense of which this is the punishment? 

It is enough that I have told you a clear story so fer. 


In addition, then, mdicate to me what date shall be the limit of 
my wandermgs. 


Better for y?)U not to know this than know it. 


I beg you, do not hide from me what I must endure. 


It IS not that I grudge you this favor. 


Why then delay to tell me all? 

It IS no grudgmg, but I hesitate to break your spint. 

« 333 » 



Do not have more thought for me than pleases me myself 

Since you are so eager, I must speak; and do you give ear 

Not yet. give me, too, a share of pleasure First let us question her 
concernmg her sickness, and let her tell us of her desperate for- 
tunes And then let you be our informant for the sorrows that 
still await her 


It IS your task, lo, to gratify these spirits, for besides other con- 
siderations they are your father's sisters To make wail and lament 
for one's ill fortune, when one will win a tear from the audience, 
is well worthwhile 


I know not how I should distrust you. clearly 
you shall hear all you want to know from me 
Yet even as I speak I groan in bitterness 
for that storm sent by God on me, that ruin 
of my beauty; I must sorrow when I think 
who sent all this upon me. There were always 
mght visions that kept haunting me and coming 
into my maiden chamber and exhorting 
with winning words, "O maiden greatly blessed, 
why are you still a maiden, you who might 
make marriage with the greatest' Zeus is stricken 
with lust for you, he is afire to try 
the bed of love with you do not disdain him 
Go, child, to Lerna's meadow, deep m grass, 
to where your Other's flocks and cattle stand 
that Zeus's eye may cease from longing for you " 
With such dreams I was cruelly beset 
night after night until I took the courage 
to tell my :&ther of my nightly terror. 

« 334 » 


He sent to Pytho many an embassy 
and to Dodona seeking to discover 
what deed or word of his might please the God, 
but those he sent came back with riddhng oracles 
dark and beyond the power of understanding. 
At last the word came clear to Inachus 
charging him plainly that he cast me out 
of home and country, dmve me out footloose 
to wander to the limits of the world; 
if he should not obey, the oracle said, 
the fire-faced thunderbolt would come firom Zeus 
and blot out his whole race. These were the oracles 
of Loxias, and Inachus obeyed them. 
He drove me out and shut his doors agamst me 
with tears on both our parts, but Zeus's bit 
compelled him to do this agamst his will. 
Immediately my form and mind were changed 
and all distorted; homed, as you see, 
pricked on by the sharp bitmg gadfly, leaping 
in firenzied jumps I ran beside the river 
Kerchneia, good to drmk, and Lerna's spnng. 
The earth-bom herdsman Argos followed me 
whose anger knew no lunits, and he spied 
after my tracks with all his hundred eyes 
Then an unlooked-for doom, descendmg suddenly, 
took hun fiom hfe. I, dnven by the gadfly, 
that god-sent scourge, was driven always onward 
from one land to another: that is my story. 
If you can teU me what remams for me, 
teU me, and do not out of pity cozen 
with kmdly hes: there is no sickness worse 
for me than words that to be kind must he. 

Hold! Keep away' Alas! 

never did I think that such strange 

« 335 » 


words would come to my ears- 

never did I thmk such mtolerable 690 

sufFermgs, an offense to the eye, 

shameful and frightening, so 

would chill my soul with a double-edged point. 

Alas, Alas, for your fate ' 

I shudder when I look on lo's fortune. 


You groan too soon, you are full of fear too soon: wait till you 
hear besides what is to be. 

Speak, tell us to the end For sufferers it is sweet to know before- 
hand clearly the pain that still remains for them. 

The first request you made of me you gained 700 

Lghtly. from her you wished to hear the story 

of what she suffered Now hear what remains, 

what sufferings this maid must yet endure 

from Hera Do you listen, child of Inachus, 

hear and lay up my words withm your heart 

that you may know the limits of your journey. 

First turn to the sun's rising and walk on 

over the fields no plough has broken, then 

you will come to the wandering Scythians 

who hve m wicker houses built above 

their well-wheeled wagons; they are an armed people, 710 

armed with the bow that stnkes from far away: 

do not draw near them; rather let your feet 

touch the surf hne of the sea where the waves moan, 

and cross their country on your left there hve 

the Chalybes who work with iron, these 

you must beware of, for they are not gentle, 

nor people whom a stranger dare approach. 

Then you will come to Insolence, a river 

that well deserves its name, but cross it not — 

« 336 


It IS no stxeam that you can easily ford — 
until you come to Caucasus itself, 
the highest mountains, where the river's strength 
gushes from its very temples Cross these peaks, 
the neighbors of the stars, and take the road 
southward until you reach the Amazons, 
the race of women who hate men, who one day 
shall hve around Thermodon m Themiscyra 
where Sabnydessos, rocky jaw of the sea, 
stands sailor-hatmg, stepmother of ships. 
The Amazons will set you on your way 
and gladly you wiU reach Cimmeria, 
the isthmus, at the narrow gates of the lake. 
Leave this with a good heart and cross the channel, 
the channel of Maeotis and hereafter 
for all time men shall talk about your aossing, 
and they shall call the place for you Cow's-ford.* 
Leave Europe's mamland then, and go to Asia. 
{To the Chorus) 

Do you now think this tyrant of the Gods 

IS hard m *11 things without difference? 

He was a God and sought to he m love 

with this girl who was mortal, and on her 

he brought this curse of wandering bitter mdeed 

you found ^our marriage with this suitor, maid. 

Yet you must think of all that I have told you 

as still only in prelude 


O, O 


Again, you are crying and lamenting what wdl you do 
hear of the evils to come' 

* Cow's-ford- Bosporas. 

337 » 



Is there still something else to her sufferings of which you will 

A wintry sea of agony and ruin. 


What good IS hfe to me then? Why do I not throw myself at 
once from some rough crag, to strike the ground and win a 
quittance of all my troubles'' It would be better to die once for all 
than suffer all one's days 

You would ill bear my trials, then, for whom Fate reserves no 
death. Death would be a quittance of trouble- but for me there is 
no limit of suffering set till Zeus fall from power. 


Can Zeus ever fell from power? 

You would be glad to see that catastrophe, I think. 


Surely, since Zeus is my persecutor 

Then know that this shall be. 


Who will despoil him of his sovereign scepter? 

His own witless plans 


How'' Tell me, if there is no harm to telhng. 

He shall make a marriage that shall hurt him. 


With god or mortal? Tell me, if you may say it. 

Why ask what marruge? That is not to be spoken 

« 338 » 

«: P R O M ET H E U S B O U K D x. 


Is It his wife shall cast him from his throne' 

She shall bear him a son mightier than his &ther. 


Has he no possibikty of escapmg this downfall? 

None, save through my release from these chams. 


But who will free you, agamst Zeus's will' 

Fate has determined that it be one of your descendants 


What, shall a child of mme bring you free? 

Yes, m the thirteenth generation. 


Your prophecy has now passed the limits of understandmg. 


Then also ^o not seek to learn your trials 


Do not offer me a boon and then withhold it. 


I offer you iJien one of two stories 


Which' Tell me and give me the choice. 

I will, choose that I tell you clearly either what remams for you 
or the one that shall dekver me 

Grant her one and grant me the other and do not deny us the tale. 
Tell her what remams of her wandermgs: tell us of the one that 
shall dekver you. That is what I desire. 

« 339 » 



Since you have so much eagerness, I will not 

refuse to tell you all that you have asked me 

First to you, lo, I shall teU the tale 

of your sad wanderings, rich in groans — mscnbe 

the story in the tablets of your mmd. 

When you shall cross the channel that divides 

Europe from Asia, turn to the rising sun, 

to the burnt plains, sun-scorched, cross by the edge 

of the foaming sea till you come to Gorgona 

to the flat stretches of Kisthene's country. 

There hve the ancient maids, children of Phorcys 

these swan-formed hags, with but one common eye, 

single-toothed monsters, such as nowhere else 

the sun's rays look on nor the moon by night 

Near are their winged sisters, the three Gorgons, 

with snakes to bind their hair up, mortal-hatmg: 

nor mortal that but looks on them shall live 

these are the sentry guards I tell you of. 

Hear, too, of yet another gruesome sight, 

the sharp-toothed hounds of Zeus, that have no bark, 

the vultures — them take heed of — and the host 

of one-eyed Arimaspians, horse-ridmg, 

that hve around the sprmg which flows with gold, 

the sprmg of Pluto's river go not near them. 

A land ^r off, a nation of black men, 

these you shall come to, men who live hard by 

the fountam of the sun where is the river 

Aethiops — travel by his banks along 

to a water&ll where from the Bibhne hills 

Nile pours his holy waters, pure to drink 

This river shall be your guide to the triangular 

land of the Nile and there, by Fate's decree, 

there, lo, you shall find your distant home, 

a colony for you and your descendants. 

« 340 » 


If anything of this is still obscure 
or difficult ask me again and learn 
clearly I have more leisure than I wish 

if there is still something left for you to tell her of her ruinous 
wanderings, tell it , but if you have said everything, grant us the 820 
favor we asked and tell us the story too 

The hmit of her wanderings complete 

she now has heard but so that she may know 

that she has not been hstening to no purpose 

I shall recount what she endured before 

she came to us here' this I give as pledge, 

a witness to the good faith of my words 

The great part of the story I omit 

and come to the very boundary of your travels 

When you had come to the Molossian plams 

around the sheer back of Dodona where 830 

IS the oracular seat of Zeus Thesprotian, 

the talking oaks, a wonder past belief, 

by them full clearly, m no riddhng terms, 

you were hailed glorious wife of Zeus that shall be. 

does anything of this wake pleasant memories? 

Then, goaded by the gadfly, on you hastened 

to the great gulf of Rhea by the track 

at the side of the sea: but m returnmg course 

you were storm-driven back: m tune to come 

that inlet of the sea shall bear your name 

and shall be called Ionian, a memorial 840 

to all men of your journeymg: these are proofs 

for you, of how far my mmd sees something ferther 

than what is visible: for what is left, 

to you and you this I shall say m common, 

taking up agam the track of my old tale. 

There is a city, fiirthest m the world. 

« 341 » 


Canobos, near the mouth and issuing point 

of the Nile there Zeus shall make you sound of mind 

touching you with a hand that brings no fear, 

and through that touch alone shall come your healing. 

You shall bear Epaphos, dark of skin, his name 

recalling Zeus's touch and his begetting 

This Epaphos shall reap the fruit of all 

the land that is watered by the broad flowing Nile 

From him five generations, and again 

to Argos they shall come, against their will, 

m number fifty, women, flying from 

a marriage with their kinsfolk but these kinsfolk 

their hearts with lust aflutter like the hawks 

barely outdistanced by the doves will come 

hunting a marriage that the law forbids. 

the God shall grudge the men these women's bodies, 

and the Pelasgian earth shall welcome them 

in death for death shall claim them in a fight 

where women strike in the dark, a murderous vigil. 

Each wife shall rob her husband of his life 

dipping m blood her two-edged sword even so 

may Love come, too, upon my enemies 

But one among these girls shall love beguile 

from killing her bedfellow, bluntmg her purpose. 

and she shall make her choice — to bear the name 

of coward and not murder, this girl, 

she shall in Argos bear a race of kings 

To tell this clearly needs a longer story, 

but from her seed shall spring a man renowned 

for archery, and he shall set me free 

Such was the prophecy which ancient Themis 

my Titan mother opened up to me, 

but how and by what means it shall come true 

would take too long to tell, and if you heard 

the knowledge would not profit you. 

« 342 » 



Eleleu, eleleu 

It creeps on me again, the twitching spasm, 
the mind-destroying madness, burning me up 
and the gadfly's sting goads me on — 
steel point by no fire tempered — 
and my heart in its fear knocks on my breast 
There's a dazing whirl in'my eyes as I run 
out of my course by the madness driven, 
the crazy frenzy, my tongue ungoverned 
babbles, the words in a muddy flow strike 
on the waves of the mischief I hate, strike wild 
without aim or sense 


A wise man indeed he was 

that first in judgment weighed this word 

and gave it tongue the best by far 

It IS to marry in one's rank and station 

let no one working with her hands aspire 

to marriage with those lifted high in pride 

because of wealth, or of ancestral glory 

Never, never may you see me, 
Fates majesty, drawing mgh 
the bed of Zeus, to share it with the kings 
nor ever may I know a heavenly wooer: 
I dread such things beholding 
lo's sad virginity 

ravaged, ruined; bitter wandering 
hers because of Hera's wrath. 


When a match has equal partners 
then I fear nof may the eye 

« 343 » 


inescapable of the mighty 
Gods not look on me 

That IS a fight that none can fight a fruitful 
source of fruitlessness. I would not 
know what I could do' I cannot 
see the hope when Zeus is angry 
of escaping him 

Yet shall this Zeus, for all his pride of heart 
be humble yet such is the match he plans, 
a marriage that shall drive him from his power 
and from his throne, out of the sight of all 
So shall at last the final consummation 
be brought about of Father Kronos' curse 
which he, driven from his ancient throne, invoked 
against the son deposing him no one 
of all the Gods save I alone can tell 
a way to escape this mischief I alone 
know It and how So let him confidently 
sit on his throne and trust his heavenly thunder 
and brandish in his hand his fiery bolt 
Nothing shall all of this avail against 
a fall intolerable, a dishonored end 
So strong a wrestler Zeus is now equipping 
against himself, a monster hard to fight 
This enemy shall find a plan to best 
the thunderbolt, a thunderclap to best 
the thunderclap of Zeus and he shall shiver 
Poseidon's tndent, curse of sea and land 
So, in his crashing 611 shall Zeus discover 
how different are rule and slavery 

You voice your wishes for the God's destruction 

They are my wishes, yet shall come to pass. 

« 344 » 



Must we expect someone to conquer Zeus' 

Yes, he shall suffer worse than I do now. 

Have you no fear of uttering such words' 

Why should I fear, since death is not my fate' 

But he might give you pain still worse than this. 


Then let htm do so, all this I expect 


Wise are the worshipers of Adrasteia 

Worship hrni, pray, flatter whatever king 
IS king today, but I care less than nothing 
for Zeus Let hun do what he hkes, 
let him be king for his short time, he shall not 
be king for* long 

Look, here is Zeus's footman, 
this fetch-and-carry messenger of him, 
the New Ki:!jg Certainly he has come here 
with news for us 


You, subtle-spmt, you 
bitterly overbitter, you that sinned 
against the immortals, giving honor to 
the creatures of a day, you thief of fire: 
the Father has commanded you to say 
what marriage of his is this you brag about 
that shall drive him from power — and declare it 

« 345 » 


in clear terms and no riddles You, Prometheus, 
do not cause me a double journey; these 

(Pomting to the chains ) 
will prove to you that Zeus is not softhearted 

Your speech is pompous sounding, full of pride, 
as fits the lackey of the Gods You are young 
and young your rule and you think that the tower 
m which you hve is free from sorrow from it 
have I not seen two tyrants thrown? the third, 
who now IS kmg, I shall yet hve to see him 
fall, of all three most suddenly, most dishonored. 

Do you think I will crouch before your Gods, 960 
— so new — and tremble' I am far from that. 
Hasten away, back on the road you came 
You shall learn nothmg that you ask of me 

Just such the obstinacy that brought you here, 

to this self-willed calamitous anchorage. 

Be sure of this- when I set my misfortune 

agamst your slavery, I would not change. 

It IS better, I suppose, to be a slave 
to this rock, than Zeus's trusted messenger. 

Thus must the msolent show their msolence ' 970 

I think you find your present lot too soft. 

Too soft? I would my enemies had it then, 
and you are one of those I count as such 

Oh, you would blame me too for your calamity' 

« 346 » 



In a smgle word, I am the enemy 

of all the Gods that gave me ill for good. 


Your words declare you mad, and mad indeed 

Yes, if It's madness to detest my foes. 

No one could bear you in success. 



Alas' Zeus does not know that word 

Time in its aging course teaches all things 

But you have not yet learned a wise discretion 

True: or I would not speak so to a servant 

It seems you will not grant the Father's wish 

I should be glad, indeed, to requite his kindness ' 

You mock me like a child! 

And are you not 
a child, and sdher than a child, to think 
that I should tell you anything? There is not 
a torture or an engine wherewithal 
Zeus can induce me to declare these things, 
till he has loosed me from these cruel shackles. 
So let him hurl his smoky lightning flame, 

« 347 » 


and throw in tunnoil all things in the world 
with white-winged snowflakes and deep bellowing 
thunder beneath the earth me he shall not 
bend by all this to tell him who is fated 
to drive him from his tyranny. 


Think, here and now, if this seems to your interest. 

I have already thought — and laid my plans 

Brmg your proud heart to know a true discretion — 

0 foohsh spirit — in the &.ce of ruin 


You vex me by these senseless adjurations, 
senseless as if you were to advise the waves 
Let It not cross your mind that I will turn 
womanish-minded from my fixed decision 
or that I shall entreat the one I hate 
so greatly, with a woman's upturned hands, 
to loose me from my chains' I am far from that 


1 have said too much already — so I think — 
and said it to no purpose- you are not softened 
your purpose is not dented by my prayers 
You are a colt new broken, with the bit 
clenched in its teeth, fighting against the reins, 
and bolting You are far too strong and confident 
m your weak cleverness For obstmacy 
standing alone is the weakest of all things 

in one whose mind is not possessed by wisdom 
Thmk what a storm, a triple wave of rum 
will rise against you, if you will not hear me, 
and no escape for you. First this rough crag 
with thunder and the lightning bolt the Father 

« 348 » 


shall deave asunder, and shall hide your body 
wrapped in a rocky dasp within its depth; 
a tedious length of tune you must fialfil 
before you see the light again, returning 
Then Zeus's winged hound, the eagle red, 
shall tear great shreds of flesh from you, a feaster 
coming unbidden, every day. your hver 
bloodied to blackness will be his repast 
And of this pam do not expect an end 
until some God shall show himself successor 
to take your tortures for himself and wilhng 
go down to hghtless Hades and the shadows 
of Tartarus' depths Bear this m mmd 
and so determine This is no feigned boast 
but spoken with too much truth. The mouth of Zeus 
does not know how to he, but every word 
brings to flilfilment Look, you, and reflect 
and never think that obstmacy is better 
than prudent counsel. 

Hermes seems to us 
to speak njit altogether out of season. 
He bids you leave your obstinacy and seek 
a wise good counsel Hearken to him Shame 
it were for one so wise to fall in error. 

Before he told it me I knew this message' 

but there is no disgrace in suffering 

at an enemy's hand, when you hate mutually. 

So let the curlmg tendril of the fire 

from the hghtning bolt be sent against me: let 

the air be stirred with thunderclaps, the winds 

m savage blasts convulsmg aU the world. 

Let earth to her foundations shake, yes to her root, 

before the quivering storm: let it conflise 

■x 349 » 


the paths of heavenly stars and the sea's waves 
in a wild surging torrent this my body 

let Hun raise up on high and dash it down 1050 
mto black Tartarus with ngorous 
compulsive eddies death he cannot give me 


These are a madman's words, a madman's plan 
IS there a missmg note m this mad harmony'' 
IS there a slack chord m his madness? You, 
you, who are so sympathetic with his troubles, 

away with you from here, quickly away' 1060 
lest you should find your wits stunned by the thunder 
and Its hard defendmg roar. 


Say something else 
different from this give me some other counsel 
that I will ksten to this word of yours 
for all Its instancy is not for us. 
How dare you bid us practice baseness'' We 
will bear along with him what we must bear 
I have learned to hate all traitors there is no 

disease I spit on more than treachery 1070 

Remember then my warnmg before the act: 

when you are trapped by rum don't blame fortune. 

don't say that Zeus has brought you to calamity 

that you could not foresee: do not do this: 

but blame yourselves: now you know what you're doing: 

and with this knowledge neither suddenly 

nor secretly your own want of good sense 

has tangled you in the net of rum, past 

all hope of rescue. 

« 350 » 



Now it IS words no longer: now in very truth 

the earth is staggered in its depths the thunder 

bellows resoundingly, the fiery tendrils 

of the lightning flash light up, and whirling clouds 

carry the dust along: all the winds' blasts 

dance in a fury one agamst the other 

in violent confusion: earth and sea 

are one, confused together, such is the storm 

that comes agamst me manifescly from Zeus 

to work Its terrors O Holy mother mine, 

O Sky that circlmg brmgs the light to all, 

you see me, how I suffer, how unjusdy.